Non-LTR Retrotransposons in Mosquitoes: Diversity, Evolution, and Analysis of Potentially Active Elements

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Virginia Tech

This research focuses on non-Long Terminal Repeat (non-LTR) retrotransposons in the African malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae and other mosquito species. An unprecedented diversity of non-LTRs was discovered by genome analysis of the An. gambiae genome assembly. One hundred and four families were found by a reiterative and comprehensive search using the conserved reverse transcriptase domains of known non-LTRs from a number of organisms as the starting queries. These families range in copy number from a few to approximately 2000 and occupy at least 3% of the genome. An. gambiae non-LTRs represent 8 of the 15 previously defined clades, plus two novel clades, Loner and Outcast, raising the total number of known clades to 17. The first invertebrate L1 clade representatives were also found. All clades except one have families with sequence characteristics suggesting recent activity.

Juan, a non-LTR of the Jockey clade originally discovered in the mosquito Culex pipiens quinquefasciatus (Mouches et al. 1991), has been implicated in horizontal transfer in three non-sibling species of the Aedes genus (Mouches, Bensaadi, and Salvado 1992). PCR was used to obtain sequences from 18 mosquito species of six genera. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrates predominant vertical inheritance of Juan elements among these species. There is strong evidence from sequence analysis supporting the recent activity of Juan in several divergent species. We hypothesize that the sustained activity (versus quick inactivation) of non-LTRs in mosquitoes may contribute to the diversity we observe in the An. gambiae genome today.

Promoter and transcriptional analyses were performed for several families previously identified as potentially active elements based on sequence analysis. RT-PCR results indicate that transcripts are present in An. gambiae cell lines that contain sequences corresponding to 13 of 15 tested non-LTR families. The 5' UTRs of An. gambiae non-LTRs from the I, Jockey, and L1 clades support basal transcription in divergent mosquito cell lines from 3 species. The Jen-1 5'UTR did not support transcription in Ae. aegypti and had low activity in Ae. albopictus. In summary, this research shows that Non-LTRs have been highly successful genomic elements that have flourished in many divergent mosquito species.

Transposable elements, non-LTR retrotransposons, reverse transcriptase, genome evolution