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Gene. 2006 Jan 3;365:57-66. Epub 2005 Dec 20.

The rise and fall of the CR1 subfamily in the lineage leading to penguins.

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  • 1Graduate School of Bioscience and Biotechnology, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan.


The evolution of penguins has been investigated extensively, although inconclusively, by morphologists, biogeographers and molecular phylogeneticists. We investigated this issue using retroposon analysis of insertions of CR1, which is a member of the LINE (long interspersed element) family, in the genomes of penguins and penguin relatives. The retroposon method is a powerful tool for identifying monophyletic groups. Because retroposons often show different relative frequencies of retroposition during evolution, it is first necessary to identify a certain subgroup that was specifically active during the period when the species in question diverged. Hence, we systematically analyzed many CR1 members isolated from penguin and penguin-related genomes. These CR1s are divided into at least three distinct subgroups that share diagnostic nucleotide insertions and/or deletions, namely, penguin CR1 Sph I, Sph II type A and Sph II type B. The analysis of the inserted retroposons by PCR revealed that different CR1 subfamilies or types had amplified at different rates among different periods during penguin evolution. Namely, the penguin CR1 Sph I subfamily had higher rates of retroposition in a common ancestor of all orders examined in this study or at least in a common ancestor of all extant penguins, and the subfamily Sph II type A also had the same tendency. Therefore, these CR1 members can be used to elucidate the phylogenetic relationships of Sphenisciformes (penguins) among different avian orders. In contrast, the penguin CR1 Sph II type B subfamily had higher rates of retroposition just before and after the emergence of the extant genera in Spheniscidae, suggesting that they are useful for elucidating the intra-relationships among extant penguins. This is the first report for the characterization among the members of CR1 family in avian genomes excluding those of chickens. Hence, this work will be a cornerstone for elucidating the phylogenetic relationships in penguin evolution using the retroposon method.

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