Saturday, April 23, 2011

Population Genomics of Transposable Elements in Drosophila

Transposable elements (TEs) are the primary contributors to the genome bulk in many organisms and are major players in genome evolution. TEs in Drosophila melanogaster come in a large diversity of families with individual familes varying in size from a few to over a hundred copies per genome. In a paper that was just published in Molecular Biology and Evolution, we carried out the first global population genomic analysis of ~800 TEs from all of the major families (55 in total) in 75 D. melanogaster strains. We found strong evidence that TEs in Drosophila are deleterious because ectopic recombination among dispersed TE copies generates inviable gametes. We showed that strength of this selection varies predictably with recombination rate, length of individual TEs, and copy number and length of other TEs in the same family. These rules do not appear to vary across orders, suggesting that selection based on ectopic recombination is a universal force preventing the uncontrolled spread of TEs in the Drosophila genome. Consistently with this notion we were able to build a statistical model that considered only individual TE-level (such as the TE length) and family-level properties (such as the copy number) and explained more than 40% of the variation in TE frequencies.

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