Testing the impact of host demography on transposable element dynamics in Drosophila

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Life Sciences


The genomes of nearly all organisms contain mobile DNA sequences known as transposable elements that can be thought of as 'selfish' intragenomic parasites. As for other parasites, the demographic history of the host species is expected to influence the ecology and evolution of transposable elements within genomes. Surprisingly little work has been conducted to address the question of how host demography affects transposable element evolution. The fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster is an ideal model system to test the impact of changes in host demographic history on transposable element dynamics, since this species is a both a model system for transposable element biology and is known to have recently colonised worldwide habitats from Africa. We aim to test the hypothesis that the recent expansion of the D. melanogaster species range into Europe from Africa has been accompanied by an increase in transposable element activity. Investigating how host demography influences transposable elements dynamics has timely relevance for understanding the molecular and adaptive responses of animal genomes to demographic changes caused by global climate change.


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Description The key finding of this project is that estimates of the age of mobile DNA elements based on genome sequences can be used to predict their allele frequency in natural populations.
Exploitation Route Our work may provide a means to develop more effective genetic markers in humans and other species. Our proof of principle analysis and theoretical model can be used as the basis to generalise this finding in other species and for other classes of repetitive DNA sequence.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Healthcare

Description Our findings have been used to further theoretical understanding of genome evolution and to test the accuracy of new software systems to detect transposable element insertions in genomic data
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Healthcare
Impact Types Cultural

Description Collaboration with Blumenstiel Lab at the University of Kansas 
Organisation University of Kansas
Department Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My research team supplied the molecular population genetic data that was used to test a new model of transposable element evolution developed in the Blumenstiel Lab at the University of Kansas. We also contributed to the implementation and testing of theis new population genetic model and co-wrote the publication arising from this publication.
Collaborator Contribution The Blumenstiel Lab at the University of Kansas generate the model of transposable element evolution that was tested in collaboration using data generated by my group.
Impact A paper describing the model and application to Drosophila population genetic data was published in early 2014 in Genetics.
Start Year 2010