The genetic and epigenetic landscape of the Arabidopsis centromeres

Centromeres attach chromosomes to spindle microtubules during cell division and, despite this conserved role, show paradoxically rapid evolution and are typified by complex repeats. We used ultra-long-read sequencing to generate the Col-CEN Arabidopsis thaliana genome assembly that resolves all five centromeres. The centromeres consist of megabase-scale tandemly repeated satellite arrays, which support high CENH3 occupancy and are densely DNA methylated, with satellite variants private to each chromosome.

CENH3 preferentially occupies satellites with least divergence and greatest higher-order repetition. The centromeres are invaded by ATHILA retrotransposons, which disrupt genetic and epigenetic organization of the centromeres. Crossover recombination is suppressed within the centromeres, yet low levels of meiotic DSBs occur that are regulated by DNA methylation.

We propose that Arabidopsis centromeres are evolving via cycles of satellite homogenization and retrotransposon-driven diversification.

Authors: Matthew Naish, Michael Alonge, Piotr Wlodzimierz, Andrew J. Tock, Bradley W. Abramson, Christophe Lambing, Pallas Kuo, Natasha Yelina, Nolan Hartwick, Kelly Colt, Tetsuji Kakutani, Robert A. Martienssen, Alexandros Bousios, Todd P. Michael, Michael C. Schatz, Ian R. Henderson