N. Fedoroff Department of Embryology, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Baltimore, Maryland 21210 A weakly active maize Suppressor-mutator (Spm-w) element is able to heritably activate cryptic Spm elements in the maize genome. The spontaneous activation frequency, which is 1-5 X 10(-5) in the present genetic background, increases by about 100-fold in the presence of an Spm-w and remains an order of magnitude above the background level a generation after removal of the activating Spm-w. Sectorial somatic reactivation of cryptic elements can be detected phenotypically in kernels. Selection of such kernels constitutes an efficient selection for plants with reactivated Spm elements. Analysis of the reactivation process reveals that it is gradual and proceeds through genetically metastable intermediates that exhibit different patterns of element expression during plant development. Newly reactivated elements tend to return to an inactive form. However, the probability that an element will remain in a heritably active state increases when the element is maintained in the presence of an active Spm element for several generations.
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