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Genetica. 1992;86(1-3):155-73.

The population biology and evolutionary significance of Ty elements in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

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Department of Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109.


The basic structure and properties of Ty elements are considered with special reference to their role as agents of evolutionary change. Ty elements may generate genetic variation for fitness by their action as mutagens, as well as by providing regions of portable homology for recombination. The mutational spectra generated by Ty1 transposition events may, due to their target specificity and gene regulatory capabilities, possess a higher frequency of adaptively favorable mutations than spectra resulting from other types of mutational processes. Laboratory strains contain between 25-35 elements, and in both these and industrial strains the insertions appear quite stable. In contrast, a wide variation in Ty number is seen in wild isolates, with a lower average number/genome. Factors which may determine Ty copy number in populations include transposition rates (dependent on Ty copy number and mating type), and stabilization of Ty elements in the genome as well as selection for and against Ty insertions in the genome. Although the average effect of Ty transpositions are deleterious, populations initiated with a single clone containing a single Ty element steadily accumulated Ty elements over 1,000 generations. Direct evidence that Ty transposition events can be selectively favored is provided by experiments in which populations containing large amounts of variability for Ty1 copy number were maintained for approximately 100 generations in a homogeneous environment. At their termination, the frequency of clones containing 0 Ty elements had decreased to approximately 0.0, and the populations had became dominated by a small number of clones containing > 0 Ty elements. No such reduction in variability was observed in populations maintained in a structured environment, though changes in Ty number were observed. The implications of genetic (mating type and ploidy) changes and environmental fluctuations for the long-term persistence of Ty elements within the S. cerevisiae species group are discussed.

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