Short interspersed repetitive elements, or SINEs, are tRNA-derived retroposons that are dispersed throughout eukaryotic genomes and can be present in well over 10(4) total copies. The enormous volume of SINE amplifications per organism makes them important evolutionary agents for shaping the diversity of genomes, and the irreversible, independent nature of their insertion allows them to be used for diagnosing common ancestry among host taxa with extreme confidence. As such, they represent a powerful new tool for systematic biology that can be strategically integrated with other conventional phylogenetic characters, most notably morphology and DNA sequences. This review covers the basic aspects of SINE evolution that are especially relevant to their use as systematic characters and describes the practical methods of characterizing SINEs for cladogram construction. It also discusses the limits of their systematic utility, clarifies some recently published misunderstandings, and illustrates the effective application of SINEs for vertebrate phylogenetics with results from selected case studies. BioEssays 22:148-160, 2000.
Copyright 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.