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Telomeric DNA terminates with a single-stranded 3′ G-overhang that in vertebrates and fission yeast is bound by POT1 (Protection Of Telomeres). However, no in vitro telomeric DNA binding is associated with Arabidopsis POT1 paralogs. To further investigate POT1–DNA interaction in plants, we cloned POT1 genes from 11 plant species representing major branches of plant kingdom. Telomeric DNA binding was associated with POT1 proteins from the green alga Ostreococcus lucimarinus and two flowering plants, maize and Asparagus. Site-directed mutagenesis revealed that several residues critical for telomeric DNA recognition in vertebrates are functionally conserved in plant POT1 proteins. However, the plant proteins varied in their minimal DNA-binding sites and nucleotide recognition properties. Green alga POT1 exhibited a strong preference for the canonical plant telomere repeat sequence TTTAGGG with no detectable binding to hexanucleotide telomere repeat TTAGGG found in vertebrates and some plants, including Asparagus. In contrast, POT1 proteins from maize and Asparagus bound TTAGGG repeats with only slightly reduced affinity relative to the TTTAGGG sequence. We conclude that the nucleic acid binding site in plant POT1 proteins is evolving rapidly, and that the recent acquisition of TTAGGG telomere repeats in Asparagus appears to have co-evolved with changes in POT1 DNA sequence recognition.


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