Retroviruses differ from retrotransposons due to their infective capacity, which depends critically on the encoded envelope. Some plant retroelements contain domains reminiscent of the env of animal retroviruses but the number of such elements described to date is restricted to angiosperms. We show here the first evidence of the presence of putative env-like gene sequences in a gymnosperm species, Pinus pinaster (maritime pine). Using a degenerate primer approach for conserved domains of RNaseH gene, three clones from putative envelope-like retrotransposons (PpRT2, PpRT3, and PpRT4) were identified. The env-like sequences of P. pinaster clones are predicted to encode proteins with transmembrane domains. These sequences showed identity scores of up to 30% with env-like sequences belonging to different organisms. A phylogenetic analysis based on protein alignment of deduced aminoacid sequences revealed that these clones clustered with env-containing plant retrotransposons, as well as with retrotransposons from invertebrate organisms. The differences found among the sequences of maritime pine clones isolated here suggest the existence of different putative classes of env-like retroelements. The identification for the first time of env-like genes in a gymnosperm species may support the ancestrality of retroviruses among plants shedding light on their role in plant evolution.
- Pinus pinaster