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Arrangement of gene pairs, retrotransposon insertions, and regulation of gene expression in plants

Nicholas D. Krom, Michigan Technological University


Plant genomes are extremely complex. Myriad factors contribute to their evolution and organization, as well as to the expression and regulation of individual genes. Here we present investigations into several such factors and their influence on genome structure and gene expression: the arrangement of pairs of physically adjacent genes, retrotransposons closely associated with genes, and the effect of retrotransposons on gene pair evolution.

All sequenced plant genomes contain a significant fraction of retrotransposons, including that of rice. We investigated the effects of retrotransposons within rice genes and within a 1 kb putative promoter region upstream of each gene. We found that approximately one-sixth of all rice genes are closely associated with retrotransposons. Insertions within a gene’s promoter region tend to block gene expression, while retrotransposons within genes promote the existence of alternative splicing forms. We also identified several other trends in retrotransposon insertion and its effects on gene expression.

Several studies have previously noted a connection among genes between physical proximity and correlated expression profiles. To determine the degree to which this correlation depends on an exact physical arrangement, we studied the expression and interspecies conservation of convergent and divergent gene pairs in rice, Arabidopsis, and Populus trichocarpa. Correlated expression among gene pairs was quite common in all three species, yet conserved arrangement was rare. However, conservation of gene pair arrangement was significantly more common among pairs with strongly correlated expression levels.

In order to uncover additional properties of gene pair conservation and rearrangement, we performed a comparative analysis of convergent, divergent, and tandem gene pairs in rice, sorghum, maize, and Brachypodium. We noted considerable differences between gene pair types and species. We also constructed a putative evolutionary history for each pair, which led to several interesting discoveries.

To further elucidate the causes of gene pair conservation and rearrangement, we identified retrotransposon insertions in and near rice gene pairs. Retrotransposon-associated pairs are less likely to be conserved, although there are significant differences in the possible effect of different types and locations of retrotransposon insertions. The three types of gene pair also varied in their susceptibility to retrotransposon-associated evolutionary changes.