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Genome Biol Evol. 2012;4(9):929-36. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evs069. Epub 2012 Aug 9.

Horizontal transfers of Tc1 elements between teleost fishes and their vertebrate parasites, lampreys.

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Department of Biology, University of Konstanz, Germany.


Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) has been recognized to be an important mechanism that shaped the evolution and genomes of prokaryotes and unicellular eukaryotes. However, HGT is regarded to be exceedingly rare among eukaryotes. We discovered massive transfers of a DNA transposon, a Tc1 element encoding a transposase, between multiple teleost fishes and lampreys that last shared a common ancestor over 500 Ma. Members of this group of Tc1 elements were found to exhibit a mosaic phylogenetic distribution, yet their sequences were highly similar even between distantly related lineages (95%-99% identity). Our molecular phylogenetic analyses suggested that horizontal transfers of this element happened repeatedly, involving multiple teleost fishes that are phylogenetically only distantly related. Interestingly, almost all the affected teleost lineages are also known to be subject to lamprey parasitism, suggesting that the horizontal transfers between vertebrates might have occurred through parasite-host interaction. The genomes of several northern hemisphere lamprey species, including that of the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), were found to contain thousands of copies of the foreign elements. Impact of this event is discussed in relation to other peculiar genomic features of lampreys.

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