A study of mobile DNA content and activity in non-model mammalian organisms
Pagan, Heidi Joy Trussell
Whole genome sequencing (WGS) projects for model mammalian organisms exposed the magnitude to which transposable elements (TEs) have contributed to DNA content, but led to inferences on repeat composition and activity patterns which do not capture the true diversity within Mammalia. Understanding of the evolutionary importance of TEs and the development of TEs for biological applications are hindered when considering only the data gathered from a limited sampling of model organisms. The research presented here begins with analysis of a mouse lemur WGS dataset, revealing an exception in the primate lineage to the generalizations garnered from model organisms. A recently active TE was uncovered with evidence of horizontal transfer involving a primate and another mammal; this discovery may lead to a useful transfection vector with known efficacy in mammalian cells. Furthermore, an opportunity to observe atypical patterns of TE diversification within a mammalian family was achieved through survey sequencing and comparative analyses of five vespertilionid taxa and a phyllostomid outgroup. A potential inverse relationship between the two classes of TEs was tentatively described, and further explored by an in-depth analysis of the dominant TE family from each class in a species with WGS data available. The interplay of the two classes could not previously be investigated in mammals, due to ~40 million years of Class II TE inactivity in model organisms. Through exploration of activity patterns of both classes, this study provides insight on the relationship between TEs and their host.