Retrotransposons Mimic Germ Plasm Determinants to Promote Transgenerational Inheritance

Bhavana Tiwari, Paula Kurtz, Amanda E. Jones, Annika Wylie, James F. Amatruda, Devi Prasad Boggupalli, Graydon B. Gonsalvez, John M. Abrams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Retrotransposons are a pervasive class of mobile elements present in the genomes of virtually all forms of life [1, 2]. In metazoans, these are preferentially active in the germline, which, in turn, mounts defenses that restrain their activity [3, 4]. Here we report that certain classes of retrotransposons ensure transgenerational inheritance by invading presumptive germ cells before they are formed. Using sensitized Drosophila and zebrafish models, we found that diverse classes of retrotransposons migrate to the germ plasm, a specialized region of the oocyte that prefigures germ cells and specifies the germline of descendants in the fertilized egg. In Drosophila, we found evidence for a “stowaway” model, whereby Tahre retroelements traffic to the germ plasm by mimicking oskar RNAs and engaging the Staufen-dependent active transport machinery. Consistent with this, germ plasm determinants attracted retroelement RNAs even when these components were ectopically positioned in bipolar oocytes. Likewise, vertebrate retrotransposons similarly migrated to the germ plasm in zebrafish oocytes. Together, these results suggest that germ plasm targeting represents a fitness strategy adopted by some retrotransposons to ensure transgenerational propagation. Retrotransposons are mobile elements present in virtually all genomes. Tiwari et al. found that, as a fitness strategy, some types of retrotransposons migrate to the germ plasm, a structure that prefigures descendants in the developing oocyte.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3010-3016.e3
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 9 2017


  • Staufen
  • germ plasm
  • germline
  • mobile elements
  • molecular mimicry
  • oocyte
  • oskar
  • p53
  • transgenerational inheritance
  • transposons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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