Estimating the age of retrotransposon subfamilies using maximum likelihood

Genomics. 2009 Jul;94(1):78-82. doi: 10.1016/j.ygeno.2009.04.002. Epub 2009 Apr 18.


We present a maximum likelihood model to estimate the age of retrotransposon subfamilies. This method is designed around a master gene model which assumes a constant retrotransposition rate. The statistical properties of this model and an ad hoc estimation procedure are compared using two simulated data sets. We also test whether each estimation procedure is robust to violation of the master gene model. According to our results, both estimation procedures are accurate under the master gene model. While both methods tend to overestimate ages under the intermediate model, the maximum likelihood estimate is significantly less inflated than the ad hoc estimate. We estimate the ages of two subfamilies of human-specific LINE-I insertions using both estimation procedures. By calculating confidence intervals around the maximum likelihood estimate, our model can both provide an estimate of retrotransposon subfamily age and describe the range of subfamily ages consistent with the data.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions*
  • Long Interspersed Nucleotide Elements
  • Models, Genetic
  • Retroelements / genetics*


  • Retroelements