Centromeres are the last frontiers of complex eukaryotic genomes, consisting of highly repetitive sequences that resist mapping, cloning and sequencing. The centromere of rice Chromosome 8 (Cen8) has an unusually low abundance of highly repetitive satellite DNA, which allowed us to determine its sequence. A region of ∼750 kb in Cen8 binds rice CENH3, the centromere-specific H3 histone. CENH3 binding is contained within a larger region that has abundant dimethylation of histone H3 at Lys9 (H3-Lys9), consistent with Cen8 being embedded in heterochromatin. Fourteen predicted and at least four active genes are interspersed in Cen8, along with CENH3 binding sites. The retrotransposons located in and outside of the CENH3 binding domain have similar ages and structural dynamics. These results suggest that Cen8 may represent an intermediate stage in the evolution of centromeres from genic regions, as in human neocentromeres, to fully mature centromeres that accumulate megabases of homogeneous satellite arrays.
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