The complete sequence of a retrotransposon from Dictyostelium discoideum, named skipper, was obtained from cDNA and genomic clones. The sequence of a nearly full-length skipper cDNA was similar to that of three other partially sequenced cDNAs. The corresponding retrotransposon is represented in ~15-20 copies and is abundantly transcribed. Skipper contains three open reading frames (ORFs) with an unusual sequence organization, aspects of which resemble certain mammalian retroviruses, ORFs 1 and 3 correspond to gag and pol genes; the second ORF, pro, corresponding to protease, was separated from gag by a single stop codon followed shortly thereafter by a potential pseudoknot. ORF3 (pol) was separated from pro by a +1 frameshift. ORFs 2 and 3 overlapped by 32 bp. The computed amino acid sequences of the skipper ORFs contain regions resembling retrotransposon polyprotein domains, including a nucleic acid binding protein, aspartyl protease, reverse transcriptase and integrase. Skipper is the first example of a retrotransposon with a separate pro gene. Skipper is also novel in that it appears to use stop codon suppression rather than frameshifting to modulate pro expression. Finally, skipper and its components may provide useful tools for the genetic characterization of Dictyostelium.
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