Mobile elements transposing via DNA intermediates often leave small rearrangements, or "transposon footprints," at sites where they excise. Each excision event leaves its own footprint and, at any given site, these vary in size and sequence. Footprint formation involves DNA repair of sequences flanking the element. We have analyzed the footprints formed by a 2-kb Ds element excising from six different sites in exons of the maize waxy (Wx) gene. We find that groups of footprints left at individual sites are surprisingly nonrandom; different excision products predominate consistently at each site. Less frequent footprints left by each insertion appear related to the predominant type. The data suggest that flanking sequences affect the DNA repair processes associated with element excision. Two models have been proposed to explain footprint formation, one featuring a 5' exonuclease and the other featuring hairpin loop formation and an endonuclease. Our data have interesting implications for both these models. Evidence is also presented to support the presence of a separate excision mechanism that can remove Ac/Ds elements without leaving any footprint and that operates in parallel with the footprint-forming mechanism.
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