NUPTs (nuclear plastid DNA) derive from plastid-to-nucleus DNA transfer and exist in various plant species. Experimental data imply that the DNA transfer is an ongoing, highly frequent process, but for the interspecific diversity of NUPTs, no clear explanation exists. Here, an inventory of NUPTs in the four sequenced plastid-bearing species and their genomic organization is presented. Large genomes with a predicted low gene density contain more NUPTs. In Chlamydomonas and Plasmodium, DNA transfer occurred but was limited, probably because of the presence of only one plastid per cell. In Arabidopsis and rice, NUPTs are frequently organized as clusters. Tight clusters can contain both NUPTs and NUMTs (nuclear mitochondrial DNA), indicating that preNUPTs and preNUMTs might have concatamerized before integration. The composition of such a hypothetical preNUPT-preNUMT pool seems to be variable, as implied by substantially different NUPTs:NUMTs ratios in different species. Loose clusters can span several dozens of kbps of nuclear DNA, and they contain markedly more NUPTs or NUMTs than expected from a random genomic distribution of nuclear organellar DNA. The level of sequence similarity between NUPTs/NUMTs and plastid/mitochondrial DNA correlates with the size of the integrant. This implies that original insertions are large and decay over evolutionary time into smaller fragments with diverging sequences. We suggest that tight and loose clusters represent intermediates of this decay process.
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