Identification of human-specific AluS elements through comparative genomics

Gene. 2015 Jan 25;555(2):208-16. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2014.11.005. Epub 2014 Nov 7.


Mobile elements are responsible for ~45% of the human genome. Among them is the Alu element, accounting for 10% of the human genome (>1.1million copies). Several studies of Alu elements have reported that they are frequently involved in human genetic diseases and genomic rearrangements. In this study, we investigated the AluS subfamily, which is a relatively old Alu subfamily and has the highest copy number in primate genomes. Previously, a set of 263 human-specific AluS insertions was identified in the human genome. To validate these, we compared each of the human-specific AluS loci with its pre-insertion site in other primate genomes, including chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan. We obtained 24 putative human-specific AluS candidates via the in silico analysis and manual inspection, and then tried to verify them using PCR amplification and DNA sequencing. Through the PCR product sequencing, we were able to detect two instances of near-parallel Alu insertions in nearby sites that led to computational false negatives. Finally, we computationally and experimentally verified 23 human-specific AluS elements. We reported three alternative Alu insertion events, which are accompanied by filler DNA and/or Alu retrotransposition mediated-deletion. Bisulfite sequencing was carried out to examine DNA methylation levels of human-specific AluS elements. The results showed that fixed AluS elements are hypermethylated compared with polymorphic elements, indicating a possible relation between DNA methylation and Alu fixation in the human genome.

Keywords: Alu element; Comparative genomics; DNA methylation; Transposable element.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Alu Elements / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • DNA Methylation
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome, Human*
  • Genomics / methods*
  • Gorilla gorilla
  • Humans
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Pongo
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Species Specificity


  • DNA Transposable Elements