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Mol Biol Evol. 1988 Nov;5(6):675-90.

Similarity of reverse transcriptase-like sequences of viruses, transposable elements, and mitochondrial introns.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Rochester, New York 14627.


Sequences similar to reverse transcriptase (RT) of retroviruses have been found in certain DNA viruses, mitochondrial intron sequences, and a wide variety of transposable elements. While total amino acid similarity between these diverse elements is quite low, we have identified seven regions, consisting of 182 amino acids, that are common to all elements. Highly conserved residues identified in each of these regions are diagnostic for the identification and alignment of these and for future RT-like sequences. Using both the neighbor-joining and the unweighted-pair-group methods, we have derived a probable phylogenetic tree for all RT-containing elements. These elements can be divided into two major groups. Retroviruses and DNA viruses whose propagation involves an RNA intermediate are grouped with a series of transposable elements containing long terminal repeats (LTRs). The second group is made up of RT-containing sequences of fungal mitochondrial introns and a series of transposable elements that lack LTRs. The transposable elements, copia and Ty, were found to be the most difficult to position on the phylogenetic tree, as a result of their higher rate of sequence divergence. The data are most consistent with their being distant members of the LTR group (retroviruses/LTR retrotransposons).

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