BACKGROUND: The presence of chloroplast-related DNA sequences in the nuclear genome is generally regarded as a relic of the process by which genes have been transferred from the chloroplast to the nucleus. The remaining chloroplast encoded genes are not identical across the plant kingdom indicating an ongoing transfer of genes from the organelle to the nucleus. SCOPE: This review focuses on the active processes by which the nuclear genome might be acquiring or removing DNA sequences from the chloroplast genome. Present knowledge of the contribution to the nuclear genome of DNA originating from the chloroplast will be reviewed. In particular, the possible effects of stressful environments on the transfer of genetic material between the chloroplast and nucleus will be considered. The significance of this research and suggestions for the future research directions to identify drivers, such as stress, of the nuclear incorporation of plastid sequences are discussed.
CONCLUSIONS: The transfer to the nuclear genome of most of the protein-encoding functions for chloroplast-located proteins facilitates the control of gene expression. The continual transfer of fragments, including complete functional genes, from the chloroplast to the nucleus has been observed. However, the mechanisms by which the loss of functions and physical DNA elimination from the chloroplast genome following the transfer of those functions to the nucleus remains obscure. The frequency of polymorphism across chloroplast-related DNA fragments within a species will indicate the rate at which these DNA fragments are incorporated and removed from the chromosomes.