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Genetics. 2015 Jan;199(1):85-93. doi: 10.1534/genetics.114.170837. Epub 2014 Oct 21.

Gene expression variation in Drosophila melanogaster due to rare transposable element insertion alleles of large effect.

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Department of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis, California 95616
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Physiology, University of California, Irvine, California 92697.


Transposable elements are a common source of genetic variation that may play a substantial role in contributing to gene expression variation. However, the contribution of transposable elements to expression variation thus far consists of a handful of examples. We used previously published gene expression data from 37 inbred Drosophila melanogaster lines from the Drosophila Genetic Reference Panel to perform a genome-wide assessment of the effects of transposable elements on gene expression. We found thousands of transcripts with transposable element insertions in or near the transcript and that the presence of a transposable element in or near a transcript is significantly associated with reductions in expression. We estimate that within this example population, ∼2.2% of transcripts have a transposable element insertion, which significantly reduces expression in the line containing the transposable element. We also find that transcripts with insertions within 500 bp of the transcript show on average a 0.67 standard deviation decrease in expression level. These large decreases in expression level are most pronounced for transposable element insertions close to transcripts and the effect diminishes for more distant insertions. This work represents the first genome-wide analysis of gene expression variation due to transposable elements and suggests that transposable elements are an important class of mutation underlying expression variation in Drosophila and likely in other systems, given the ubiquity of these mobile elements in eukaryotic genomes.


DGRP; gene expression; rare alleles of large effect; transposable elements

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