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Mol Biol Evol. 1993 Jan;10(1):163-85.

Sequence relationship of retrotransposable elements R1 and R2 within and between divergent insect species.

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


R1 and R2 are retrotransposable elements that integrate at specific sites in the 28S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes of Bombyx mori and Drosophila melanogaster. We have previously shown that most insect species contain insertions in their 28S genes at the R1 and/or R2 site. We have sequenced the 3' half of R1 and R2 elements from three additional insect species: the fungus gnat, Sciara coprophila (Diptera); the Japanese beetle, Popillia japonica (Colleoptera); and the parasitic wasp, Nasonia vitripennis (Hymenoptera). The elements were obtained by screening lambda phage genomic clones containing rDNA units and by a polymerase chain reaction approach using degenerate primers to conserved sequences in the reverse-transcriptase domain, in combination with a second primer to the 28S gene 3' of the insertion site. Comparisons of the sequences of R1 and R2 from four insect orders suggest that the organization of their open-reading frames has been conserved and is therefore likely to be similar throughout insects. This sequence analysis also indicates that, except for 5' truncations generated during the retrotransposition process itself, most elements have not accumulated mutations that would make them inactive. Popillia japonica and N. vitripennis differed from previously described species, in that (a) P. japonica contained multiple families of R2 and (b) N. vitripennis contained multiple families of R1. Nucleotide sequence identity between these different families is low. Amino acid sequence identity of their open-reading frames averaged only 41% for the R2 families of P. japonica and 35% for the R1 families of N. vitripennis. The presence of multiple highly divergent families of elements within a species suggests either that each insertion family is able to maintain its copy number without eliminating the other families in its competition for a limited number of 28S genes or that there has been extensive horizontal transfer of R1 and R2 elements between insect species.

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