The genetic and epigenetic landscape of the Arabidopsis centromeres

Naish M, Alonge M, Wlodzimierz P, Tock AJ, Abramson BW, Schmücker A, Mandáková T, Jamge B, Lambing C, Kuo P, Yelina N, Hartwick N, Colt K, Ton J, Kakutani T, Martienssen RA, Schneeberger K, Lysak MA, Berger F, Bousios A, Michae TP, Schatz MS, Henderson IR

Science 374: eabi7489.


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 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 CENTROMERE SPECIFIC HISTONE H3 (CENH3) occupancy and are densely DNA methylated, with satellite variants private to each chromosome. CENH3 preferentially occupies satellites that show the least amount of divergence and occur in higher-order repeats. The centromeres are invaded by ATHILA retrotransposons, which disrupt genetic and epigenetic organization. Centromeric crossover recombination is suppressed, yet low levels of meiotic DNA double-strand breaks occur that are regulated by DNA methylation. We propose that Arabidopsis centromeres are evolving through cycles of satellite homogenization and retrotransposon-driven diversification.