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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Feb 6;104(6):1895-900. Epub 2007 Jan 29.

Massive amplification of rolling-circle transposons in the lineage of the bat Myotis lucifugus.

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Department of Biology, University of Texas, Arlington, TX 76019, USA.


Rolling-circle (RC) transposons, or Helitrons, are a newly recognized group of eukaryotic transposable elements abundant in the genomes of plants, invertebrates, and zebrafish. We provide evidence for the colonization of a mammalian genome by Helitrons, which has not been reported previously. We identified and characterized two families of Helitrons in the little brown bat Myotis lucifugus. The consensus sequence for the first family, HeliBat1, displays the hallmarks of an autonomous Helitron, including coding capacity for an approximately 1,500-aa protein with an RC replication motif and a region related to the SF1 superfamily of DNA helicases. The HeliBatN1 family is a nonautonomous Helitron family that is only distantly related to HeliBat1. The two HeliBat families have attained high copy numbers (approximately 15,000 and > 100,000 copies, respectively) and make up at least approximately 3% of the M. lucifugus genome. Sequence divergence and cross-species analyses indicate that both HeliBat families have amplified within the last approximately 30-36 million years and are restricted to the lineage of vesper bats. We could not detect the presence of Helitrons in any other order of placental mammals, despite the broad representation of these taxa in the databases. We describe an instance of HeliBat-mediated transduction of a host gene fragment that was subsequently dispersed in approximately 1,000 copies throughout the M. lucifugus genome. Given the demonstrated propensity of RC transposons to mediate the duplication and shuffling of host genes in bacteria and maize, it is tempting to speculate that the massive amplification of Helitrons in vesper bats has influenced the evolutionary trajectory of these mammals.

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