Real-time transposable element activity in individual live cells

Neil H. Kim, Gloria Leea, Nicholas A. Sherer, K. Michael Martini, Nigel Goldenfeld, Thomas E. Kuhlman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The excision and reintegration of transposable elements (TEs) restructure their host genomes, generating cellular diversity involved in evolution, development, and the etiology of human diseases. Our current knowledge of TE behavior primarily results from bulk techniques that generate time and cell ensemble averages, but cannot capture cell-to-cell variation or local environmental and temporal variability. We have developed an experimental system based on the bacterial TE IS608 that uses fluorescent reporters to directly observe single TE excision events in individual cells in real time. We find that TE activity depends upon the TE's orientation in the genome and the amount of transposase protein in the cell. We also find that TE activity is highly variable throughout the lifetime of the cell. Upon entering stationary phase, TE activity increases in cells hereditarily predisposed to TE activity. These direct observations demonstrate that real-time live-cell imaging of evolution at the molecular and individual event level is a powerful tool for the exploration of genome plasticity in stressed cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7278-7283
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number26
StatePublished - Jun 28 2016


  • Quantitative biolog
  • Transposable elements|evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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