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Transposon Day- Editors' Picks

We asked our esteemed Editors-in-Chief to pick some of the most important articles published in Mobile DNA in the last 12 months, as far as significance to the field, novelty, implications, and interest. We are happy to offer them for you here, and that you enjoy reviewing the contribution each one has made to the field.

Diseases of the nERVous system: retrotransposon activity in neurodegenerative disease
Oliver H. Tam, Lyle W. Ostrow & Molly Gale Hammell
Mobile DNA 10, 32 (2019)

Transposable Elements (TEs) are mobile genetic elements whose sequences constitute nearly half of the human genome. Each TE copy can be present in hundreds to thousands of locations within the genome, complicating the genetic and genomic studies of these highly repetitive sequences. The recent development of better tools for evaluating TE derived sequences in genomic studies has enabled an increasing appreciation for the contribution of TEs to human development and disease. While some TEs have contributed novel and beneficial host functions, this review will summarize the evidence for detrimental TE activity in neurodegenerative disorders. Much of the evidence for pathogenicity implicates endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), a subset of TEs that entered the genome by retroviral infections of germline cells in our evolutionary ancestors and have since been passed down as a substantial fraction of the human genome. Human specific ERVs (HERVs) represent some of the youngest ERVs in the genome, and thus are presumed to retain greater function and resultant pathogenic potential.

Sex and the TEs: transposable elements in sexual development and function in animals
Corentin Dechaud, Jean-Nicolas Volff, Manfred Schartl & Magali Naville
Mobile DNA 10, 42 (2019)

Transposable elements are endogenous DNA sequences able to integrate into and multiply within genomes. They constitute a major source of genetic innovations, as they can not only rearrange genomes but also spread ready-to-use regulatory sequences able to modify host gene expression, and even can give birth to new host genes. As their evolutionary success depends on their vertical transmission, transposable elements are intrinsically linked to reproduction. In organisms with sexual reproduction, this implies that transposable elements have to manifest their transpositional activity in germ cells or their progenitors. The control of sexual development and function can be very versatile, and several studies have demonstrated the implication of transposable elements in the evolution of sex. In this review, we report the functional and evolutionary relationships between transposable elements and sexual reproduction in animals. In particular, we highlight how transposable elements can influence expression of sexual development genes, and how, reciprocally, they are tightly controlled in gonads. We also review how transposable elements contribute to the organization, expression and evolution of sexual development genes and sex chromosomes. This underscores the intricate co-evolution between host functions and transposable elements, which regularly shift from a parasitic to a domesticated status useful to the host.

Comparative analysis on the expression of L1 loci using various RNA-Seq preparations
Tiffany Kaul, Maria E. Morales, Alton O. Sartor, Victoria P. Belancio & Prescott Deininger
Mobile DNA 11, 2 (2020)

Retrotransposons are one of the oldest evolutionary forces shaping mammalian genomes, with the ability to mobilize from one genomic location to another. This mobilization is also a significant factor in human disease. The only autonomous human retroelement, L1, has propagated to make up 17% of the human genome, accumulating over 500,000 copies. The majority of these loci are truncated or defective with only a few reported to remain capable of retrotransposition. We have previously published a strand-specific RNA-Seq bioinformatics approach to stringently identify at the locus-specific level the few expressed full-length L1s using cytoplasmic RNA. With growing repositories of RNA-Seq data, there is potential to mine these datasets to identify and study expressed L1s at single-locus resolution, although many datasets are not strand-specific or not generated from cytoplasmic RNA.

The UCSC repeat browser allows discovery and visualization of evolutionary conflict across repeat families
Jason D. Fernandes, Armando Zamudio-Hurtado, Hiram Clawson, W. James Kent, David Haussler, Sofie R. Salama & Maximilian Haeussler
Mobile DNA 11, 13 (2020)

Nearly half the human genome consists of repeat elements, most of which are retrotransposons, and many of which play important biological roles. However repeat elements pose several unique challenges to current bioinformatic analyses and visualization tools, as short repeat sequences can map to multiple genomic loci resulting in their misclassification and misinterpretation. In fact, sequence data mapping to repeat elements are often discarded from analysis pipelines. Therefore, there is a continued need for standardized tools and techniques to interpret genomic data of repeats.

Variation in base composition underlies functional and evolutionary divergence in non-LTR retrotransposons
Robert P. Ruggiero & Stéphane Boissinot
Mobile DNA 11, 14 (2020)

Non-LTR retrotransposons often exhibit base composition that is markedly different from the nucleotide content of their host’s gene. For instance, the mammalian L1 element is AT-rich with a strong A bias on the positive strand, which results in a reduced transcription. It is plausible that the A-richness of mammalian L1 is a self-regulatory mechanism reflecting a trade-off between transposition efficiency and the deleterious effect of L1 on its host. We examined if the A-richness of L1 is a general feature of non-LTR retrotransposons or if different clades of elements have evolved different nucleotide content. We also investigated if elements belonging to the same clade evolved towards different base composition in different genomes or if elements from different clades evolved towards similar base composition in the same genome.

AcademH, a lineage of Academ DNA transposons encoding helicase found in animals and fungi
Kenji K. Kojima
Mobile DNA 11, 15 (2020)

DNA transposons are ubiquitous components of eukaryotic genomes. Academ superfamily of DNA transposons is one of the least characterized DNA transposon superfamilies in eukaryotes. DNA transposons belonging to the Academ superfamily have been reported from various animals, one red algal species Chondrus crispus, and one fungal species Puccinia graminis. Six Academ families from P. graminis encode a helicase in addition to putative transposase, while some other families encode a single protein which contains a putative transposase and an XPG nuclease.

Diverse transposable element landscapes in pathogenic and nonpathogenic yeast models: the value of a comparative perspective
Patrick H. Maxwell
Mobile DNA 11, 16 (2020)

Genomics and other large-scale analyses have drawn increasing attention to the potential impacts of transposable elements (TEs) on their host genomes. However, it remains challenging to transition from identifying potential roles to clearly demonstrating the level of impact TEs have on genome evolution and possible functions that they contribute to their host organisms. I summarize TE content and distribution in four well-characterized yeast model systems in this review: the pathogens Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans, and the nonpathogenic species Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Schizosaccharomyces pombe. I compare and contrast their TE landscapes to their lifecycles, genomic features, as well as the presence and nature of RNA interference pathways in each species to highlight the valuable diversity represented by these models for functional studies of TEs. I then review the regulation and impacts of the Ty1 and Ty3 retrotransposons from Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Tf1 and Tf2 retrotransposons from Schizosaccharomyces pombe to emphasize parallels and distinctions between these well-studied elements. I propose that further characterization of TEs in the pathogenic yeasts would enable this set of four yeast species to become an excellent set of models for comparative functional studies to address outstanding questions about TE-host relationships.

Identification of RAG-like transposons in protostomes suggests their ancient bilaterian origin
Eliza C. Martin, Célia Vicari, Louis Tsakou-Ngouafo, Pierre Pontarotti, Andrei J. Petrescu & David G. Schatz
Mobile DNA 11, 17 (2020)

V(D) J recombination is essential for adaptive immunity in jawed vertebrates and is initiated by the RAG1-RAG2 endonuclease. The RAG1 and RAG2 genes are thought to have evolved from a RAGL (RAG-like) transposon containing convergently-oriented RAG1-like (RAG1L) and RAG2-like (RAG2L) genes. Elements resembling this presumptive evolutionary precursor have thus far only been detected convincingly in deuterostomes, leading to the model that the RAGL transposon first appeared in an early deuterostome.