ATM regulates the length of individual telomere tracts in Arabidopsis
Telomeres have the paradoxical ability of protecting linear chromosome ends from DNA damage sensors by using these same proteins as essential components of their maintenance machinery. We have previously shown that the absence of ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM), a central regulator of the DNA damage response, accelerates the onset of genome instability in telomerase-deficient Arabidopsis, without increasing the rate of bulk telomere shortening. Here, we examine individual telomere tracts through successive plant generations using both fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and primer extension telomere repeat amplification (PETRA). Unexpectedly, we found that the onset of profound developmental defects and abundant end-to-end chromosome fusions in fifth generation (G(5)) atm tert mutants required the presence of only one critically shortened telomere. Parent progeny analysis revealed that the short telomere arose as a consequence of an unusually large telomere rapid deletion (TRD) event. The most dramatic TRID was detected in atm tert mutants that had undergone meiosis. Notably, in contrast to TRID, alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) was suppressed in the absence of ATM. Finally, we show that size differences between telomeres on homologous chromosome ends are greater for atm tert than tert plants. Altogether, these findings suggest a dual role for ATM in regulating telomere size by promoting elongation of short telomeres and by preventing the accumulation of cells that harbor large telomere deletions.