Retrotransposon sequence variation in four asexual plant species

J Mol Evol. 2006 Apr;62(4):375-87. doi: 10.1007/s00239-004-0350-y. Epub 2006 Mar 17.


Transposable elements (TEs) can be viewed as genetic parasites that persist in populations due to their capacity for increase in copy number and the inefficacy of selection against them. A corollary of this hypothesis is that TEs are more likely to spread within sexual populations and be eliminated or inactivated within asexual populations. While previous work with animals has shown that asexual taxa may contain less TE diversity than sexual taxa, comparable work with plants has been lacking. Here we report the results of a study of Ty1/copia, Ty3/gypsy, and LINE-like retroelement diversity in four asexual plant species. Retroelement-like sequences, with a high degree of conservation both within and between species, were isolated from all four species. The sequences correspond to several previously annotated retroelement subfamilies. They also exhibit a pattern of nucleotide substitution characterized by an excess of synonymous substitutions, suggestive of a history of purifying selection. These findings were compared with retroelement sequence evolution in sexual plant taxa. One likely explanation for the discovery of conserved TE sequences in the genomes of these asexual taxa is simply that asexuality within these taxa evolved relatively recently, such that the loss and breakdown of TEs is not yet detectable through analysis of sequence diversity. This explanation is examined by conducting stochastic simulation of TE evolution and by using published information to infer rough estimates of the ages of asexual taxa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Computer Simulation
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Plants / classification
  • Plants / genetics*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Reproduction, Asexual / genetics*
  • Retroelements / genetics*
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • Retroelements