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Mob DNA. 2011 Oct 19;2(1):12. doi: 10.1186/1759-8753-2-12.

Crypton transposons: identification of new diverse families and ancient domestication events.

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Genetic Information Research Institute, 1925 Landings Drive, Mountain View, CA 94043, USA.



"Domestication" of transposable elements (TEs) led to evolutionary breakthroughs such as the origin of telomerase and the vertebrate adaptive immune system. These breakthroughs were accomplished by the adaptation of molecular functions essential for TEs, such as reverse transcription, DNA cutting and ligation or DNA binding. Cryptons represent a unique class of DNA transposons using tyrosine recombinase (YR) to cut and rejoin the recombining DNA molecules. Cryptons were originally identified in fungi and later in the sea anemone, sea urchin and insects.


Herein we report new Cryptons from animals, fungi, oomycetes and diatom, as well as widely conserved genes derived from ancient Crypton domestication events. Phylogenetic analysis based on the YR sequences supports four deep divisions of Crypton elements. We found that the domain of unknown function 3504 (DUF3504) in eukaryotes is derived from Crypton YR. DUF3504 is similar to YR but lacks most of the residues of the catalytic tetrad (R-H-R-Y). Genes containing the DUF3504 domain are potassium channel tetramerization domain containing 1 (KCTD1), KIAA1958, zinc finger MYM type 2 (ZMYM2), ZMYM3, ZMYM4, glutamine-rich protein 1 (QRICH1) and "without children" (WOC). The DUF3504 genes are highly conserved and are found in almost all jawed vertebrates. The sequence, domain structure, intron positions and synteny blocks support the view that ZMYM2, ZMYM3, ZMYM4, and possibly QRICH1, were derived from WOC through two rounds of genome duplication in early vertebrate evolution. WOC is observed widely among bilaterians. There could be four independent events of Crypton domestication, and one of them, generating WOC/ZMYM, predated the birth of bilaterian animals. This is the third-oldest domestication event known to date, following the domestication generating telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) and Prp8. Many Crypton-derived genes are transcriptional regulators with additional DNA-binding domains, and the acquisition of the DUF3504 domain could have added new regulatory pathways via protein-DNA or protein-protein interactions.


Cryptons have contributed to animal evolution through domestication of their YR sequences. The DUF3504 domains are domesticated YRs of animal Crypton elements.

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