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Mob Genet Elements. 2013 Mar 1;3(2):e24775.

Accommodating the load: The transposable element content of very large genomes.

Author information

1
Instituto de Biociências; Universidade de São Paulo; Cidade Universitária; São Paulo, Brazil.
2
Laboratoire Evolution Génomes et Spéciation; UPR9034 CNRS; Gif-sur-Yvette, France ; Université Paris Diderot; Sorbonne Paris Cité, France.

Abstract

Very large genomes, that is, those above 20 Gb, are rare but widely distributed throughout the eukaryotes. They are found within the diatoms, dinoflagellates, metazoans and green plants, but so far have not been found in the excavates. There is a known positive correlation between genome size and the proportion of the genome composed of transposable elements (TEs). Very large genomes may therefore be expected to be almost entirely composed of TEs. Of the large genomes examined, in the angiosperms, gymnosperms and the dinoflagellates only a small portion of the genome was identified as TEs, most of these genomes were unidentified and may be novel or diverse TEs. In the salamanders and lungfish, 25 to 47% of the genome were identifiable retrotransposons, that is, TEs that copy themselves before insertion. However, the predominant class of TEs found in the lungfish was not the same as that found in the salamanders. The little data we have at the moment suggests therefore that the diversity and abundance of TEs is variable between taxa with large genomes, similar to patterns found in taxa with smaller genomes. Based on results from the human genome, we suggest that the 'missing' portion of the lungfish and salamander genomes are old, highly divergent, and therefore inactive copies of TEs. The data available indicate that, unlike plants with large genomes, neither the lungfish nor the salamanders show an increased risk of extinction. Based on a slow rate of DNA loss in salamanders it has been suggested that the large salamander genome is the result of run-away genome expansion involving genome size increases via TE proliferation associated with reduced recombination rate. We know of no studies on DNA loss or recombination rates in lungfish genomes, however a similar scenario could describe the process of genome expansion in the lungfish. A series of waves of TE transposition and sequence decay would describe the pattern of TE content seen in both the lungfish and the salamanders. The lungfish and salamanders, therefore, may accommodate their large load of TEs because these TEs have accumulated gradually over a long period of time and have been subject to inactivation and decay.

KEYWORDS:

eukaryotes; evolution; genome size; large genomes; transposable elements

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