Meiotic recombination is initiated by large numbers of developmentally programmed DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs), ranging from dozens to hundreds per cell depending on the organism. DSBs formed in single-copy sequences provoke recombination between allelic positions on homologous chromosomes, but DSBs can also form in and near repetitive elements such as retrotransposons. When they do, they create a risk for deleterious genome rearrangements in the germ line via recombination between non-allelic repeats. A prior study in budding yeast demonstrated that insertion of a Ty retrotransposon into a DSB hotspot can suppress meiotic break formation, but properties of Ty elements in their most common physiological contexts have not been addressed. Here we compile a comprehensive, high resolution map of all Ty elements in the rapidly and efficiently sporulating S. cerevisiae strain SK1 and examine DSB formation in and near these endogenous retrotransposable elements. SK1 has 30 Tys, all but one distinct from the 50 Tys in S288C, the source strain for the yeast reference genome. From whole-genome DSB maps and direct molecular assays, we find that DSB levels and chromatin structure within and near Tys vary widely between different elements and that local DSB suppression is not a universal feature of Ty presence. Surprisingly, deletion of two Ty elements weakened adjacent DSB hotspots, revealing that at least some Ty insertions promote rather than suppress nearby DSB formation. Given high strain-to-strain variability in Ty location and the high aggregate burden of Ty-proximal DSBs, we propose that meiotic recombination is an important component of host-Ty interactions and that Tys play critical roles in genome instability and evolution in both inbred and outcrossed sexual cycles.
Meiosis is the cell division that generates gametes for sexual reproduction. During meiosis, homologous recombination occurs frequently, initiated by DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) made by Spo11. Meiotic recombination usually occurs between sequences at allelic positions on homologous chromosomes, but a DSB within a repetitive element (e.g., a retrotransposon) can provoke recombination between non-allelic sequences instead. This can create genomic havoc in the form of gross chromosomal rearrangements, which underlie many recurrent human mutations. It has been thought that cells minimize this risk by disfavoring DSB formation in repetitive elements, partly based on studies showing that presence of a Ty element (a yeast retrotransposon) can suppress nearby DSB activity. Whether this is a general feature of Tys has not been evaluated, however. Here, we generated a comprehensive map of Tys in the rapidly sporulating SK1 strain and examined DSB formation in and around all of these endogenous Ty elements. Remarkably, most natural Ty elements do not appear to suppress DSB formation nearby, and at least some of them increase local DSBs. These findings have implications for understanding the relationship between host and transposon, and for understanding the impact of retrotransposons on genome stability and evolution during sexual reproduction.