Factors that affect the horizontal transfer of transposable elements

Curr Issues Mol Biol. 2004 Jan;6(1):57-71.


Transposable elements are characterized by their ability to spread within a host genome. Many are also capable of crossing species boundaries to enter new genomes, a process known as horizontal transfer. Focusing mostly on animal transposable elements, we review the occurrence of horizontal transfer and examine the methods used to detect such transfers. We then discuss factors that affect the frequency of horizontal transfer, with emphasis on the mechanism and regulation of transposition. An intriguing feature of horizontal transfer is that its frequency differs among transposable element families. Evidence summarized in this review indicates that this pattern is due to fundamental differences between Class I and Class II elements. There appears to be a gradient in the incidence of horizontal transfer that reflects the presence of DNA intermediates during transposition. Furthermore, horizontal transfer seems to predominate among families for which copy number is controlled predominantly by self-regulatory mechanisms that limit transposition. We contend that these differences play a major role in the observed predominance of horizontal transfer among Class II transposable elements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Transposable Elements* / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal*
  • Genetic Vectors
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional
  • Phylogeny


  • DNA Transposable Elements