Widespread horizontal transfer of retrotransposons


In higher organisms such as vertebrates, it is generally believed that lateral transfer of genetic information does not readily occur, with the exception of retroviral infection. However, horizontal transfer (HT) of protein coding repetitive elements is the simplest way to explain the patchy distribution of BovB, a long interspersed element (LINE) about 3.2 kb long, that has been found in ruminants, marsupials, squamates, monotremes, and African mammals. BovB sequences are a major component of some of these genomes. Here we show that HT of BovB is significantly more widespread than believed, and we demonstrate the existence of two plausible arthropod vectors, specifically reptile ticks. A phylogenetic tree built from BovB sequences from species in all of these groups does not conform to expected evolutionary relationships of the species, and our analysis indicates that at least nine HT events are required to explain the observed topology. Our results provide compelling evidence for HT of genetic material that has transformed vertebrate genomes.

PNAS 110:1012-1016