Complex sequence organization of heterochromatin in the holocentric plant Cuscuta europaea elucidated by the computational analysis of nanopore reads

Repeat-rich regions of higher plant genomes are usually associated with constitutive heterochromatin, a specific type of chromatin that forms tightly packed nuclear chromocenters and chromosome bands. There is a large body of cytogenetic evidence that these chromosome regions are often composed of tandemly organized satellite DNA. However, comparatively little is known about the sequence arrangement within heterochromatic regions, which are difficult to assemble due to their repeated nature.

Here, we explore long-range sequence organization of heterochromatin regions containing the major satellite repeat CUS-TR24 in the holocentric plant Cuscuta europaea. Using a combination of ultra-long read sequencing with assembly-free sequence analysis, we reveal the complex structure of these loci, which are composed of short arrays of CUS-TR24 interrupted frequently by emerging simple sequence repeats and targeted insertions of a specific lineage of LINE retrotransposons.

These data suggest that the organization of satellite repeats constituting heterochromatic chromosome bands can be more complex than previously envisioned, and demonstrate that heterochromatin organization can be efficiently investigated without the need for genome assembly.

Authors: Tihana Vondrak, Ludmila Oliveira, Petr Novák, Andrea Koblížková, Pavel Neumanna, Jiří Macas