Stress response, behavior, and development are shaped by transposable element-induced mutations in Drosophila

PLoS Genet. 2019 Feb 12;15(2):e1007900. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007900. eCollection 2019 Feb.


Most of the current knowledge on the genetic basis of adaptive evolution is based on the analysis of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Despite increasing evidence for their causal role, the contribution of structural variants to adaptive evolution remains largely unexplored. In this work, we analyzed the population frequencies of 1,615 Transposable Element (TE) insertions annotated in the reference genome of Drosophila melanogaster, in 91 samples from 60 worldwide natural populations. We identified a set of 300 polymorphic TEs that are present at high population frequencies, and located in genomic regions with high recombination rate, where the efficiency of natural selection is high. The age and the length of these 300 TEs are consistent with relatively young and long insertions reaching high frequencies due to the action of positive selection. Besides, we identified a set of 21 fixed TEs also likely to be adaptive. Indeed, we, and others, found evidence of selection for 84 of these reference TE insertions. The analysis of the genes located nearby these 84 candidate adaptive insertions suggested that the functional response to selection is related with the GO categories of response to stimulus, behavior, and development. We further showed that a subset of the candidate adaptive TEs affects expression of nearby genes, and five of them have already been linked to an ecologically relevant phenotypic effect. Our results provide a more complete understanding of the genetic variation and the fitness-related traits relevant for adaptive evolution. Similar studies should help uncover the importance of TE-induced adaptive mutations in other species as well.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / genetics*
  • Gene Frequency / genetics
  • Genome, Insect / genetics*
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Selection, Genetic / genetics
  • Stress, Physiological / genetics*


  • DNA Transposable Elements