Ancient and Recent Horizontal Invasions of Drosophilids by P Elements
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P elements of two different subfamilies designated as M- and O-type are thought to have invaded host species in the Drosophila obscura group via horizontal transmission from external sources. Sequence comparisons with P elements isolated from other species suggested that the horizontal invasion by the O-type must have been a rather recent event, whereas the M-type invasion should have occurred in the more distant past. To trace the phylogenetic history of O-type elements, additional taxa were screened for the presence of O- and M-type elements using type-specific PCR primers. The phylogeny deduced from the sequence data of a 927-bp section (14 taxa) indicate that O-type elements have undergone longer periods of regular vertical transmission in the lineages of the saltans and willistoni groups of Drosophila. However, starting from a species of the D. willistoni group they were transmitted horizontally into other lineages. First the lineage of the D. affinis subgroup was infected, and finally, in a more recent wave of horizontal spread, species of three different genera were invaded by O-type elements from the D. affinis lineage: Scaptomyza, Lordiphosa, and the sibling species D. bifasciata/D. imaii of the Drosophila obscura subgroup. The O-type elements isolated from these taxa are almost identical (sequence divergence <1%). In contrast, no such striking similarities are observed among M-type elements. Nevertheless, the sequence phylogeny of M-type elements is also not in accordance with the phylogeny of their host species, suggesting earlier horizontal transfer events. The results imply that P elements cross species barriers more frequently than previously thought but require a particular genomic environment and thus seem to be confined to a rather narrow spectrum of host species. Consequently, different P element types acquired by successive horizontal transmission events often coexist within the same genome.
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