The maintenance of terminal sequences is an important role of the telomere, since it prevents the loss of internal regions that encode essential genes. In most eukaryotes, this is accomplished by the telomerase. However, telomere length can also be maintained by other mechanisms, such as homologous recombination and transposition of telomeric retrotransposons to the chromosome ends. A remarkable situation is the case of Drosophila, where telomerase was lost, and thus telomeres managed to be maintained by occasional retrotransposition of telomeric elements to the receding ends. In the recent analysis of 12 Drosophila genomes, the multiplicity of autonomous and non-autonomous telomere-specific retrotransposons has revealed extensive and rapid evolution of telomeric DNA. The phylogenetic relationship among these telomeric retrotransposons is congruent with the species phylogeny, suggesting that they have been vertically transmitted from a common ancestor. In this review, we also suggest that the formation of a non-canonical DNA structure at Drosophila telomeres could be the way to protect the ends.
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