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Genetics. 1990 Feb;124(2):339-55.

Evidence for horizontal transmission of the P transposable element between Drosophila species.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Connecticut, Storrs 06268.


Several studies have suggested that P elements have rapidly spread through natural populations of Drosophila melanogaster within the last four decades. This observation, together with the observation that P elements are absent in the other species of the melanogaster subgroup, has lead to the suggestion that P elements may have entered the D. melanogaster genome by horizontal transmission from some more distantly related species. In an effort to identify the potential donor in the horizontal transfer event, we have undertaken an extensive survey of the genus Drosophila using Southern blot analysis. The results showed that P-homologous sequences are essentially confined to the subgenus Sophophora. The strongest P hybridization occurs in species from the closely related willistoni group. A wild-derived strain of D. willistoni was subsequently selected for a more comprehensive molecular examination. As part of the analysis, a complete P element was cloned and sequenced from this line. Its nucleotide sequence was found to be identical to the D. melanogaster canonical P, with the exception of a single base substitution at position 32. When the cloned element was injected into D. melanogaster embryos, it was able to both promote transposition of a coinjected marked transposon and induce singed-weak mutability, thus demonstrating its ability to function as an autonomous element. The results of this study suggest that D. willistoni may have served as the donor species in the horizontal transfer of P elements to D. melanogaster.

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