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PLoS Genet. 2009 Feb;5(2):e1000386. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000386. Epub 2009 Feb 20.

The pattern of R2 retrotransposon activity in natural populations of Drosophila simulans reflects the dynamic nature of the rDNA locus.

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Department of Biology, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, United States of America.


The pattern and frequency of insertions that enable transposable elements to remain active in a population are poorly understood. The retrotransposable element R2 exclusively inserts into the 28S rRNA genes where it establishes long-term, stable relationships with its animal hosts. Previous studies with laboratory stocks of Drosophila simulans have suggested that control over R2 retrotransposition resides within the rDNA loci. In this report, we sampled 180 rDNA loci of animals collected from two natural populations of D. simulans. The two populations were found to have similar patterns of R2 activity. About half of the rDNA loci supported no or very low levels of R2 transcripts with no evidence of R2 retrotransposition. The remaining half of the rDNA loci had levels of R2 transcripts that varied in a continuous manner over almost a 100-fold range and did support new retrotransposition events. Structural analysis of the rDNA loci in 18 lines that spanned the range of R2 transcript levels in these populations revealed that R2 number and rDNA locus size varied 2-fold; however, R2 activity was not readily correlated with either of these parameters. Instead R2 activity was best correlated with the distribution of elements within the rDNA locus. Loci with no activity had larger contiguous blocks of rDNA units free of R2-insertions. These data suggest a model in which frequent recombination within the rDNA locus continually redistributes R2-inserted units resulting in changing levels of R2 activity within individual loci and persistent R2 activity within the population.

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