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The alternative reality of plant mitochondrial DNA


Alexander Kozik, Beth A. Rowan, Dean Lavelle, Lidija Berke, M. Eric Schranz, Richard W. Michelmore, and Alan C. Christensen

Plant mitochondrial genomes are usually assembled and displayed as circular maps based on the widely-held assumption that circular genome molecules are the primary form of mitochondrial DNA, despite evidence to the contrary. Many plant mitochondrial genomes have one or more pairs of large repeats that can act as sites for inter- or intramolecular recombination, leading to multiple alternative genomic arrangements (isoforms). Most mitochondrial genomes have been assembled using methods that were unable to capture the complete spectrum of isoforms within a species, leading to an incomplete inference of their structure and recombinational activity. To document and investigate underlying reasons for structural diversity in plant mitochondrial DNA, we used long-read (PacBio) and short-read (Illumina) sequencing data to assemble and compare mitochondrial genomes of domesticated (Lactuca sativa) and wild (L. saligna and L. serriola) lettuce species. This allowed us to characterize a comprehensive, complex set of isoforms within each species and to compare genome structures between species. Physical analysis of L. sativa mtDNA molecules by fluorescence microscopy revealed a variety of linear, branched linear, and circular structures. The mitochondrial genomes for L. sativa and L. serriola were identical in sequence and arrangement, and differed substantially from L. saligna, indicating that the mitochondrial genome structure did not change during domestication. From the isoforms evident in our data, we inferred that recombination occurs at repeats of all sizes at variable frequencies. The differences in genome structure between L. saligna and the two other lettuce species can be largely explained by rare recombination events that rearrange the structure. Our data demonstrate that representations of plant mitochondrial DNA as simple, genome-sized circular molecules are not accurate descriptions of their true nature and that in reality plant mitochondrial DNA is a complex, dynamic mixture of forms.

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Published
March, 2019

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