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Genomic Landscape of Long Terminal Repeat Retrotransposons (LTR-RTs) and Solo LTRs as Shaped by Ectopic Recombination in Chicken and Zebra Finch

Abstract

Transposable elements (TEs) are nearly ubiquitous among eukaryotic genomes, but TE contents vary dramatically among phylogenetic lineages. Several mechanisms have been proposed as drivers of TE dynamics in genomes, including the fixation/loss of a particular TE insertion by selection or drift as well as structural changes in the genome due to mutation (e.g., recombination). In particular, recombination can have a significant and directional effect on the genomic TE landscape. For example, ectopic recombination removes internal regions of long terminal repeat retrotransposons (LTR-RTs) as well as one long terminal repeat (LTR), resulting in a solo LTR. In this study, we focus on the intra-species dynamics of LTR-RTs and solo LTRs in bird genomes. The distribution of LTR-RTs and solo LTRs in birds is intriguing because avian recombination rates vary widely within a given genome. We used published linkage maps and whole genome assemblies to study the relationship between recombination rates and LTR-removal events in the chicken and zebra finch. We hypothesized that regions with low recombination rates would harbor more full-length LTR-RTs (and fewer solo LTRs) than regions with high recombination rates. We tested this hypothesis by comparing the ratio of full-length LTR-RTs and solo LTRs across chromosomes, across non-overlapping megabase windows, and across physical features (i.e., centromeres and telomeres). The chicken data statistically supported the hypothesis that recombination rates are inversely correlated with the ratio of full-length to solo LTRs at both the chromosome level and in 1-Mb non-overlapping windows. We also found that the ratio of full-length to solo LTRs near chicken telomeres was significantly lower than those ratios near centromeres. Our results suggest a potential role of ectopic recombination in shaping the chicken LTR-RT genomic landscape.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Purdue’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and the China Scholarship Council for funding Y.J., and Purdue’s Office of the Provost for funding to J.A.D. through the University Faculty Scholar program. We thank S. Steinbiss for maintaining LTRdigest, M. Groenen for providing the data on centromeres in chicken, M. Sundaram for statistical advice, members of DeWoody Lab, and anonymous reviewers and the editor for providing constructive criticism on an earlier version of this paper.

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Correspondence to Yanzhu Ji.

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Ji, Y., DeWoody, J. Genomic Landscape of Long Terminal Repeat Retrotransposons (LTR-RTs) and Solo LTRs as Shaped by Ectopic Recombination in Chicken and Zebra Finch. J Mol Evol 82, 251–263 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00239-016-9741-0

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Keywords

  • Non-allelic homologous recombination
  • Endogenous retrovirus
  • Solo LTR
  • Red jungle fowl