Reproductive parasites such as Wolbachia are able to manipulate the reproduction of their hosts by inducing parthenogenesis, male-killing, cytoplasmic incompatibility or feminization of genetic males. Despite extensive studies, no underlying molecular mechanism has been described to date. The goal of this study was to establish a system with a single Wolbachia strain that feminizes two different isopod species to enable comparative analyses aimed at elucidating the genetic basis of feminization. It was previously suggested that Wolbachia wVulC, which naturally induces feminization in Armadillidium vulgare, induces the development of female secondary sexual characters in transinfected Cylisticus convexus adult males. However, this does not demonstrate that wVulC induces feminization in C. convexus since feminization is the conversion of genetic males into functional females that occurs during development. Nevertheless, it suggests that C. convexus may represent a feminization model suitable for further development. Knowledge about C. convexus sexual differentiation is also essential for comparative analyses, as feminization is thought to take place just before or during sexual differentiation. Consequently, we first described gonad morphological differentiation of C. convexus and compared it with that of A. vulgare. Then, wVulC was injected into male and female C. convexus adult individuals. The feminizing effect was demonstrated by the combined appearance of female secondary sexual characters in transinfected adult males, as well as the presence of intersexes and female biases in progenies in which wVulC was vertically transmitted from transinfected mothers. The establishment of a new model of feminization of a Wolbachia strain in a heterologous host constitutes a useful tool towards the understanding of the molecular mechanism of feminization.
Mitochondrial genome structure and organization are relatively conserved among metazoans. However, in many isopods, especially the terrestrial isopods (Oniscidea), the mitochondrial genome consists of both ∼14-kb linear monomers and ∼28-kb circular dimers. This unusual organization is associated with an ancient and conserved constitutive heteroplasmic site. This heteroplasmy affects the anticodon of a tRNA gene, allowing this single locus to function as a “dual” tRNA gene for two different amino acids. Here, we further explore the evolution of these unusual mitochondrial genomes by assembling complete mitochondrial sequences for two additional Oniscidean species, Trachelipus rathkei and Cylisticus convexus. Strikingly, we find evidence of two additional heteroplasmic sites that also alter tRNA anticodons, creating additional dual tRNA genes, and that are conserved across both species. These results suggest that the unique linear/circular organization of isopods’ mitochondrial genomes may facilitate the evolution of stable mitochondrial heteroplasmies, and, conversely, once such heteroplasmies have evolved, they constrain the multimeric structure of the mitochondrial genome in these species. Finally, we outline some possible future research directions to identify the factors influencing mitochondrial genome evolution in this group.
heteroplasmy; dual tRNA; Oniscidea; mitogenome
Genomic reduction in bacterial endosymbionts occurs through large genomic deletions and long-term accumulation of mutations. The latter process involves successive steps including gene neutralization, pseudogenization, and gradual erosion until complete loss. Although many examples of pseudogenes at various levels of degradation have been reported, neutralization cases are scarce because of the transient nature of the process. Gene neutralization may occur due to relaxation of selection in nonessential genes, for example, those involved in redundant functions. Here, we report an example of gene neutralization in the homologous recombination (HR) pathway of Wolbachia, a bacterial endosymbiont of arthropods and nematodes. The HR pathway is often depleted in endosymbiont genomes, but it is apparently intact in some Wolbachia strains. Analysis of 12 major HR genes showed that they have been globally under strong purifying selection during the evolution of Wolbachia strains hosted by arthropods, supporting the evolutionary importance of the HR pathway for these Wolbachia genomes. However, we detected signs of recent neutralization of the ruvA gene in a subset of Wolbachia strains, which might be related to an ancestral, clade-specific amino acid change that impaired DNA-binding activity. Strikingly, RuvA is part of the RuvAB complex involved in branch migration, whose function overlaps with the RecG helicase. Although ruvA is experiencing neutralization, recG is under strong purifying selection. Thus, our high phylogenetic resolution suggests that we identified a rare example of targeted neutralization of a gene involved in a redundant function in an endosymbiont genome.
endosymbiosis; gene loss; molecular evolution; selection relaxation; genomic reduction; nonorthologous gene displacement
Recent studies in paleovirology have uncovered myriads of endogenous viral elements (EVEs) integrated in the genome of their eukaryotic hosts. These fragments result from endogenization, that is, integration of the viral genome into the host germline genome followed by vertical inheritance. So far, most studies have used a virus-centered approach, whereby endogenous copies of a particular group of viruses were searched in all available sequenced genomes. Here, we follow a host-centered approach whereby the genome of a given species is comprehensively screened for the presence of EVEs using all available complete viral genomes as queries. Our analyses revealed that 54 EVEs corresponding to 10 different viral lineages belonging to 5 viral families (Bunyaviridae, Circoviridae, Parvoviridae, and Totiviridae) and one viral order (Mononegavirales) became endogenized in the genome of the isopod crustacean Armadillidium vulgare. We show that viral endogenization occurred recurrently during the evolution of isopods and that A. vulgare viral lineages were involved in multiple host switches that took place between widely divergent taxa. Furthermore, 30 A. vulgare EVEs have uninterrupted open reading frames, suggesting they result from recent endogenization of viruses likely to be currently infecting isopod populations. Overall, our work shows that isopods have been and are still infected by a large variety of viruses. It also extends the host range of several families of viruses and brings new insights into their evolution. More generally, our results underline the power of paleovirology in characterizing the viral diversity currently infecting eukaryotic taxa.
paleovirology; viral diversity; viral host range; isopod crustacean; Armadillidium vulgare
Bacterial gut communities of arthropods are highly diverse and tightly related to host feeding habits. However, our understanding of the origin and role of the symbionts is often hindered by the lack of genetic information. “Candidatus Hepatoplasma crinochetorum” is a Mollicutes symbiont found in the midgut glands of terrestrial isopods. The only available nucleotide sequence for this symbiont is a partial 16S rRNA gene sequence. Here, we present the 657,101 bp assembled genome of Candidatus Hepatoplasma crinochetorum isolated from the terrestrial isopod Armadillidium vulgare. While previous 16S rRNA gene-based analyses have provided inconclusive results regarding the phylogenetic position of Candidatus Hepatoplasma crinochetorum within Mollicutes, we performed a phylogenomic analysis of 127 Mollicutes orthologous genes which confidently branches the species as a sister group to the Hominis group of Mycoplasma. Several genome properties of Candidatus Hepatoplasma crinochetorum are also highlighted compared with other Mollicutes genomes, including adjacent tryptophan tRNA genes, which further our understanding of the evolutionary dynamics of these genes in Mollicutes, and the presence of a probably inactivated CRISPR/Cas system, which constitutes a testimony of past interactions between Candidatus Hepatoplasma crinochetorum and mobile genetic elements, despite their current lack in this streamlined genome. Overall, the availability of the complete genome sequence of Candidatus Hepatoplasma crinochetorum paves the way for further investigation of its ecology and evolution.
Hepatoplasma; Mollicutes; genome sequence; symbiont
Armadillidium vulgare is a terrestrial isopod (Crustacea, Oniscidea) which harbors Wolbachia bacterial endosymbionts. A. vulgare is the major model for the study of Wolbachia-mediated feminization of genetic males in crustaceans. As a consequence of their impact on host sex determination mechanisms, Wolbachia endosymbionts are thought to significantly influence A. vulgare evolution on various grounds, including population genetic structure, diversity and reproduction strategies. To provide molecular tools for examining these questions, we isolated microsatellite loci through 454 pyrosequencing of a repeat-enriched A. vulgare genomic library. We selected 14 markers and developed three polymorphic microsatellite multiplex kits. We tested the kits on two A. vulgare natural populations and found high genetic variation, thereby making it possible to investigate the impact of Wolbachia endosymbionts on A. vulgare nuclear variation at unprecedented resolution. In addition, we tested the transferability of these kits by cross-species amplification in five other terrestrial isopod species harboring Wolbachia endosymbionts. The microsatellite loci showed good transferability in particular in Armadillidium nasatum and Chaetophiloscia elongata, for which these markers represent promising tools for future genetic studies.
Wolbachia, endosymbiotic bacteria of the order Rickettsiales, are widespread in arthropods but also present in nematodes. In arthropods, A and B supergroup Wolbachia are generally associated with distortion of host reproduction. In filarial nematodes, including some human parasites, multiple lines of experimental evidence indicate that C and D supergroup Wolbachia are essential for the survival of the host, and here the symbiotic relationship is considered mutualistic. The origin of this mutualistic endosymbiosis is of interest for both basic and applied reasons: How does a parasite become a mutualist? Could intervention in the mutualism aid in treatment of human disease? Correct rooting and high-quality resolution of Wolbachia relationships are required to resolve this question. However, because of the large genetic distance between Wolbachia and the nearest outgroups, and the limited number of genomes so far available for large-scale analyses, current phylogenies do not provide robust answers. We therefore sequenced the genome of the D supergroup Wolbachia endosymbiont of Litomosoides sigmodontis, revisited the selection of loci for phylogenomic analyses, and performed a phylogenomic analysis including available complete genomes (from isolates in supergroups A, B, C, and D). Using 90 orthologous genes with reliable phylogenetic signals, we obtained a robust phylogenetic reconstruction, including a highly supported root to the Wolbachia phylogeny between a (A + B) clade and a (C + D) clade. Although we currently lack data from several Wolbachia supergroups, notably F, our analysis supports a model wherein the putatively mutualist endosymbiotic relationship between Wolbachia and nematodes originated from a single transition event.
Wolbachia; phylogenomics; mutualism; Litomosoides sigmodontis; endosymbiosis
Horizontal transfer (HT) of transposable elements (TEs) plays a key role in prokaryotic evolution, and mounting evidence suggests that it has also had an important impact on eukaryotic evolution. Although many prokaryote-to-prokaryote and eukaryote-to-eukaryote HTs of TEs have been characterized, only few cases have been reported between prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Here, we carried out a comprehensive search for all major groups of prokaryotic insertion sequences (ISs) in 430 eukaryote genomes. We uncovered a total of 80 sequences, all deriving from the IS607 family, integrated in the genomes of 14 eukaryote species belonging to four distinct phyla (Amoebozoa, Ascomycetes, Basidiomycetes, and Stramenopiles). Given that eukaryote IS607-like sequences are most closely related to cyanobacterial IS607 and that their phylogeny is incongruent with that of their hosts, we conclude that the presence of IS607-like sequences in eukaryotic genomes is the result of several HT events. Selection analyses further suggest that our ability to detect these prokaryote TEs today in eukaryotes is because HT of these sequences occurred recently and/or some IS607 elements were domesticated after HT, giving rise to new eukaryote genes. Supporting the recent age of some of these HTs, we uncovered intact full-length, potentially active IS607 copies in the amoeba Acanthamoeba castellani. Overall, our study shows that prokaryote-to-eukaryote HT of TEs occurred at relatively low frequency during recent eukaryote evolution and it sets IS607 as the most widespread TE (being present in prokaryotes, eukaryotes, and viruses).
horizontal transfer; transposable elements; eukaryotes; prokaryotes
Transposable elements (TEs) are one of the major driving forces of genome evolution, raising the question of the long-term dynamics underlying their evolutionary success. Some TEs were proposed to evolve under a pattern of periodic extinctions-recolonizations, in which elements recurrently invade and quickly proliferate within their host genomes, then start to disappear until total extinction. Depending on the model, TE extinction is assumed to be driven by purifying selection against colonized host genomes (Sel-DE model) or by saturation of host genomes (Sat-DE model). Bacterial group II introns are suspected to follow an extinction-recolonization model of evolution, but whether they follow Sel-DE or Sat-DE dynamics is not known. Our analysis of almost 200 group II intron copies from 90 sequenced Enterobacteriales genomes confirms their extinction-recolonization dynamics: patchy element distributions among genera and even among strains within genera, acquisition of new group II introns through plasmids or other mobile genetic elements, and evidence for recent proliferations in some genomes. Distributions of recent and past proliferations and of their respective homing sites further provide strong support for the Sel-DE model, suggesting that group II introns are deleterious to their hosts. Overall, our observations emphasize the critical impact of host properties on TE dynamics.
An international conference on Transposable Elements (TEs) was held 21–24 April 2012 in Saint Malo, France. Organized by the French Transposition Community (GDR Elements Génétiques Mobiles et Génomes, CNRS) and the French Society of Genetics (SFG), the conference’s goal was to bring together researchers from around the world who study transposition in diverse organisms using multiple experimental approaches. The meeting drew more than 217 attendees and most contributed through poster presentations (117), invited talks and short talks selected from poster abstracts (48 in total). The talks were organized into four scientific sessions, focused on: impact of TEs on genomes, control of transposition, evolution of TEs and mechanisms of transposition. Here, we present highlights from the talks given during the platform sessions. The conference was sponsored by Alliance pour les sciences de la vie et de la santé (Aviesan), Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (INSERM), Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD), Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA), Université de Perpignan, Université de Rennes 1, Région Bretagne and Mobile DNA.
Chair of the organization committee
Abdelkader Ainouche, Mireille Bétermier, Mick Chandler, Richard Cordaux, Gaël Cristofari, Jean-Marc Deragon, Pascale Lesage, Didier Mazel, Olivier Panaud, Hadi Quesneville, Chantal Vaury, Cristina Vieira and Clémentine Vitte
Transposable elements; Evolution of transposable elements; Impact on genomes; Control of transposition; Mechanisms of transposition
Wolbachia bacteria are obligate intracellular alpha-Proteobacteria of arthropods and nematodes. Although widespread among isopod crustaceans, they have seldom been found in non-isopod crustacean species. Here, we report Wolbachia infection in fourteen new crustacean species. Our results extend the range of Wolbachia infections in terrestrial isopods and amphipods (class Malacostraca). We report the occurrence of two different Wolbachia strains in two host species (a terrestrial isopod and an amphipod). Moreover, the discovery of Wolbachia in the goose barnacle Lepas anatifera (subclass Thecostraca) establishes Wolbachia infection in class Maxillopoda. The new bacterial strains are closely related to B-supergroup Wolbachia strains previously reported from crustacean hosts. Our results suggest that Wolbachia infection may be much more widespread in crustaceans than previously thought. The presence of related Wolbachia strains in highly divergent crustacean hosts suggests that Wolbachia endosymbionts can naturally adapt to a wide range of crustacean hosts. Given the ability of isopod Wolbachia strains to induce feminization of genetic males or cytoplasmic incompatibility, we speculate that manipulation of crustacean-borne Wolbachia bacteria might represent potential tools for controlling crustacean species of commercial interest and crustacean or insect disease vectors.
Wolbachia; endosymbiont; Crustacea; Maxillopoda; terrestrial isopod; distribution; adaptation
Horizontal transfer of transposable elements (TEs) plays a key role in prokaryote genome evolution. Most TEs do not encode the enzymatic machinery allowing them to transfer between host cells and it is widely assumed in the literature that horizontal transfer of prokaryote TEs is mediated by other mobile genetic elements such as phages and plasmids. In a recent study, we have shown that phages are less tolerant to insertion sequences (IS, the most frequent class of prokaryote TEs) and therefore have a lower cargo capacity than plasmids. Consequently, while our analysis confirmed the crucial role of plasmids as efficient vehicles of IS horizontal transfer, we concluded that phages are unlikely to efficiently shuttle IS elements between prokaryotes. Here, we discuss whether or not the distribution pattern observed for IS elements in phages and plasmids also holds for other TEs, such as transposons and mobile introns. We also further explore various factors that may impact the relative capacity of phages and plasmids to mediate TE horizontal transfer among prokaryotes.
transposable element; insertion sequence; horizontal transfer; phage; plasmid; purifying selection; prokaryote
Transposable elements (TE) are one of the major driving forces of genome evolution, raising the question of the long-term dynamics underlying their evolutionary success. Long-term TE evolution can readily be reconstructed in eukaryotes, thanks to many degraded copies constituting genomic fossil records of past TE proliferations. By contrast, bacterial genomes usually experience high sequence turnover and short TE retention times, thereby obscuring ancient TE evolutionary patterns. We found that Wolbachia bacterial genomes contain 52–171 insertion sequence (IS) TEs. IS account for 11% of Wolbachia wRi, which is one of the highest IS genomic coverage reported in prokaryotes to date. We show that many IS groups are currently expanding in various Wolbachia genomes and that IS horizontal transfers are frequent among strains, which can explain the apparent synchronicity of these IS proliferations. Remarkably, >70% of Wolbachia IS are nonfunctional. They constitute an unusual bacterial IS genomic fossil record providing direct empirical evidence for a long-term IS evolutionary dynamics following successive periods of intense transpositional activity. Our results show that comprehensive IS annotations have the potential to provide new insights into prokaryote TE evolution and, more generally, prokaryote genome evolution. Indeed, the identification of an important IS genomic fossil record in Wolbachia demonstrates that IS elements are not always of recent origin, contrary to the conventional view of TE evolution in prokaryote genomes. Our results also raise the question whether the abundance of IS fossils is specific to Wolbachia or it may be a general, albeit overlooked, feature of prokaryote genomes.
insertion sequence; transposable element; evolutionary dynamics; prokaryote; Wolbachia; molecular palaeontology
Transposable elements (TE), defined as discrete pieces of DNA that can move from site to another site in genomes, represent significant components of eukaryotic genomes, including primates. Comparative genome-wide analyses have revealed the considerable structural and functional impact of TE families on primate genomes. Insights into these questions have come in part from the development of computational methods that allow detailed and reliable identification, annotation and evolutionary analyses of the many TE families that populate primate genomes. Here, we present an overview of these computational methods, and describe efficient data mining strategies for providing a comprehensive picture of TE biology in newly available genome sequences.
Computational methods; transposable element; insertion; identification; classification; consensus sequence; subfamily; phylogenetic reconstruction; transpositional activity; primate; genome evolution
Transposable elements are widely distributed and diverse in both eukaryotes and prokaryotes, as exemplified by DNA transposons. As a result, they represent a considerable source of genomic variation, for example through ectopic (i.e. non-allelic homologous) recombination events between transposable element copies, resulting in genomic rearrangements. Ectopic recombination may also take place between homologous sequences located within transposable element sequences. DNA transposons are typically bounded by terminal inverted repeats (TIRs). Ectopic recombination between TIRs is expected to result in DNA transposon inversions. However, such inversions have barely been documented. In this study, we report natural inversions of the most common prokaryotic DNA transposons: insertion sequences (IS). We identified natural TIR-TIR recombination-mediated inversions in 9% of IS insertion loci investigated in Wolbachia bacteria, which suggests that recombination between IS TIRs may be a quite common, albeit largely overlooked, source of genomic diversity in bacteria. We suggest that inversions may impede IS survival and proliferation in the host genome by altering transpositional activity. They may also alter genomic instability by modulating the outcome of ectopic recombination events between IS copies in various orientations. This study represents the first report of TIR-TIR recombination within bacterial IS elements and it thereby uncovers a novel mechanism of structural variation for this class of prokaryotic transposable elements.
Non-LTR retrotransposons – including LINE-1 (or L1), Alu and SVA elements – have proliferated during the past 80 million years of primate evolution and now account for approximately one third of the human genome. These transposable elements are now known to affect the human genome in many different ways: generating insertion mutations, genomic instability, alterations in gene expression and also contributing to genetic innovation. As the sequences of human and other primate genomes are analyzed in increasing detail, we are begining to understand the scale and complexity of the past and current contribution of non-LTR retrotransposons to genomic change in the human lineage.
Due to essentially maternal inheritance and a bottleneck effect during early oogenesis, newly arising mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations segregate rapidly in metazoan female germlines. Consequently, heteroplasmy (i.e. the mixture of mtDNA genotypes within an organism) is generally resolved to homoplasmy within a few generations. Here, we report an exceptional transpecific heteroplasmy (predicting an alanine/valine alloacceptor tRNA change) that has been stably inherited in oniscid crustaceans for at least thirty million years. Our results suggest that this heteroplasmy is stably transmitted across generations because it occurs within mitochondria and therefore escapes the mtDNA bottleneck that usually erases heteroplasmy. Consistently, at least two oniscid species possess an atypical trimeric mitochondrial genome, which provides an adequate substrate for the emergence of a constitutive intra-mitochondrial heteroplasmy. Persistence of a mitochondrial polymorphism on such a deep evolutionary timescale suggests that balancing selection may be shaping mitochondrial sequence evolution in oniscid crustaceans.
Alu elements are transposable elements that have reached over one million copies in the human genome. Some Alu elements inserted in the genome so recently that they are still polymorphic for insertion presence or absence in human populations. Recently, there has been an increasing interest in using Alu variation for studies of human population genetic structure and inference of individual geographic origin. Currently, this requires a high number of Alu loci. Here, we used a linker-mediated PCR method to preferentially identify low frequency Alu elements in various human DNA samples with different geographic origins. The candidate Alu loci were subsequently genotyped in 18 worldwide human populations (~370 individuals), resulting in the identification of two new Alu insertions restricted to populations of African ancestry. Our results suggest that it may ultimately become possible to correctly infer the geographic affiliation of unknown samples with high levels of confidence without having to genotype as many as 100 Alu loci. This is desirable if Alu insertion polymorphisms are to be used for human evolution studies or forensic applications.
Alu insertions; humans; polymorphism; genetic structure; geographic inference
The streamlined genomes of ancient obligate endosymbionts generally lack transposable elements, such as insertion sequences (IS). Yet, the genome of Wolbachia, one of the most abundant bacterial endosymbionts on Earth, is littered with IS. Such a paradox raises the question as to why there are so many ISs in the genome of this ancient endosymbiont. To address this question, we investigated IS transpositional activity in the unculturable Wolbachia by tracking the evolutionary dynamics and history of ISWpi1 elements. We show that 1) ISWpi1 is widespread in Wolbachia, being present in at least 55% of the 40 sampled strains, 2) ISWpi1 copies exhibit virtually identical nucleotide sequences both within and among Wolbachia genomes and possess an intact transposase gene, 3) individual ISWpi1 copies are differentially inserted among Wolbachia genomes, and 4) ISWpi1 occurs at variable copy numbers among Wolbachia genomes. Collectively, our results provide compelling evidence for intense ISWpi1 transpositional activity and frequent ISWpi1 horizontal transmission among strains during recent Wolbachia evolution. Thus, the genomes of ancient obligate endosymbionts can carry high loads of functional and transpositionally active transposable elements. Our results also indicate that Wolbachia genomes have experienced multiple and temporally distinct ISWpi1 invasions during their evolutionary history. Such recurrent exposition to new IS invasions may explain, at least partly, the unusually high density of transposable elements found in the genomes of Wolbachia endosymbionts.
transposable element; insertion sequence; transpositional activity; horizontal transmission; obligate endosymbiont; Wolbachia
The long interspersed element-1 (LINE-1 or L1) is a highly successful retrotransposon in mammals. L1 elements have continued to actively propagate subsequent to the human–chimpanzee divergence, ~6 million years ago, resulting in species-specific inserts. Here, we report a detailed characterization of chimpanzee-specific L1 subfamily diversity and a comparison with their human-specific counterparts. Our results indicate that L1 elements have experienced different evolutionary fates in humans and chimpanzees within the past ~6 million years. Although the species-specific L1 copy numbers are on the same order in both species (1200–2000 copies), the number of retrotransposition-competent elements appears to be much higher in the human genome than in the chimpanzee genome. Also, while human L1 subfamilies belong to the same lineage, we identified two lineages of recently integrated L1 subfamilies in the chimpanzee genome. The two lineages seem to have coexisted for several million years, but only one shows evidence of expansion within the past three million years. These differential evolutionary paths may be the result of random variation, or the product of competition between L1 subfamily lineages. Our results suggest that the coexistence of several L1 subfamily lineages within a species may be resolved in a very short evolutionary period of time, perhaps in just a few million years. Therefore, the chimpanzee genome constitutes an excellent model in which to analyze the evolutionary dynamics of L1 retrotransposons.
L1 elements; Retrotransposons; Human; Chimpanzee; Species-specific; Polymorphism
We determined the 16S rRNA gene sequences of three crustacean “Rickettsiella armadillidii” strains. Rickettsiella bacteria overall appear to form a monophyletic group that diverged from Coxiella bacteria ∼350 million years ago. Therefore, the genus Rickettsiella as a whole (not just Rickettsiella grylli) should be classified among the Gammaproteobacteria instead of the Alphaproteobacteria.
Retrotransposons have had a considerable impact on the overall architecture of the human genome. Currently, there are three lineages of retrotransposons (Alu, L1, and SVA) that are believed to be actively replicating in humans. While estimates of their copy number, sequence diversity, and levels of insertion polymorphism can readily be obtained from existing genomic sequence data and population sampling, a detailed understanding of the temporal pattern of retrotransposon amplification remains elusive. Here we pose the question of whether, using genomic sequence and population frequency data from extant taxa, one can adequately reconstruct historical amplification patterns. To this end, we developed a computer simulation that incorporates several known aspects of primate Alu retrotransposon biology and accommodates sampling effects resulting from the methods by which mobile elements are typically discovered and characterized. By modeling a number of amplification scenarios and comparing simulation-generated expectations to empirical data gathered from existing Alu subfamilies, we were able to statistically reject a number of amplification scenarios for individual subfamilies, including that of a rapid expansion or explosion of Alu amplification at the time of human–chimpanzee divergence.
Nearly 50% of the human genome is composed of mobile elements. While much of this sequence consists of inactive “fossil” elements that are no longer actively moving or generating new copies, three families are currently proliferating in human genomes. Among these, the Alu lineage has reached a copy number of over 1 million and alone accounts for approximately 10% of the genome. While considerable evidence has been gathered concerning the underlying biological mechanisms of Alu mobilization and proliferation, a detailed understanding of Alu amplification history is currently lacking. Researchers are aware, for example, that several thousand Alu elements have inserted within the human genome since the divergence of humans and chimpanzees, but how those insertions were distributed over this ~6-million-year time period is currently unknown. In this work, the authors introduce a simulation framework that seeks to incorporate both sequence diversity and empirically gathered population data from human Alu elements, in order to provide a better understanding of the last several million years of human Alu evolution. The results suggest that a rapid explosion of Alu amplification at the time of the human–chimpanzee divergence is unlikely. Therefore, it is improbable that an increase in Alu retrotransposition activity was involved in the speciation of humans and chimpanzees.
Long INterspersed Elements (LINE-1s or L1s) are abundant non-LTR retrotransposons in mammalian genomes that are capable of insertional mutagenesis. They have been associated with target site deletions upon insertion in cell culture studies of retrotransposition. Here, we report 50 deletion events in the human and chimpanzee genomes directly linked to the insertion of L1 elements, resulting in the loss of ∼18 kb of sequence from the human genome and ∼15 kb from the chimpanzee genome. Our data suggest that during the primate radiation, L1 insertions may have deleted up to 7.5 Mb of target genomic sequences. While the results of our in vivo analysis differ from those of previous cell culture assays of L1 insertion-mediated deletions in terms of the size and rate of sequence deletion, evolutionary factors can reconcile the differences. We report a pattern of genomic deletion sizes similar to those created during the retrotransposition of Alu elements. Our study provides support for the existence of different mechanisms for small and large L1-mediated deletions, and we present a model for the correlation of L1 element size and the corresponding deletion size. In addition, we show that internal rearrangements can modify L1 structure during retrotransposition events associated with large deletions.
Horizontal transfer (HT) of DNA is an important factor shaping eukaryote evolution. Although several hundreds of eukaryote-to-eukaryote HTs of transposable elements (TEs) have been reported, the vectors underlying these transfers remain elusive. Here, we show that multiple copies of two TEs from the cabbage looper (Trichoplusia ni) transposed in vivo into genomes of the baculovirus Autographa californica multiple nucleopolyhedrovirus (AcMNPV) during caterpillar infection. We further demonstrate that both TEs underwent recent HT between several sympatric moth species (T. ni, Manduca sexta, Helicoverpa spp.) showing different degrees of susceptibility to AcMNPV. Based on two independent population genomics data sets (reaching a total coverage >330,000X), we report a frequency of one moth TE in ~8,500 AcMNPV genomes. Together, our results provide strong support for the role of viruses as vectors of TE HT between animals, and they call for a systematic evaluation of the frequency and impact of virus-mediated HT on the evolution of host genomes.
Horizontal transfer of DNA is common among eukaryotes but the vectors involved remain elusive. Here, Gilbert et al. show high frequency of in vivo transposition from the cabbage looper moth into genomes of a baculovirus, suggesting that viruses can act as vectors of horizontal transfer between animals.