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Genetica. 1999;107(1-3):139-48.

Transposon dynamics and the breeding system.

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  • 1Department of Biology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec Canada.


The selfish DNA hypothesis predicts that natural selection is responsible for preventing the unregulated build up of transposable elements in organismal genomes. Accordingly, between-species differences in the strength and effectiveness of selection against transposons should be important in driving the evolution of transposon activity and abundance. We used a modeling approach to investigate how the rate of self-fertilization influences the population dynamics of transposable elements. Contrasting effects of the breeding system were observed under selection based on transposon disruption of gene function versus selection based on element-mediated ectopic exchange. This suggests that the comparison of TE copy number in organisms with different breeding systems may provide a test of the relative importance of these forces in regulating transposon multiplication. The effects of breeding system also interacted with population size, particularly when there was no element excision. The strength and effectiveness of selection against transposons was reflected not only in their equilibrium abundance, but also in the per-site element frequency of individual insertions and the coefficient of variation in copy number. These results are discussed in relation to evidence on transposon abundance available from the literature, and suggestions for future data collection.

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