An Ancient Transkingdom Horizontal Transfer of Penelope-Like Retroelements from Arthropods to Conifers. Academic Article uri icon


  • Comparative genomics analyses empowered by the wealth of sequenced genomes have revealed numerous instances of horizontal DNA transfers between distantly related species. In eukaryotes, repetitive DNA sequences known as transposable elements (TEs) are especially prone to move across species boundaries. Such horizontal transposon transfers, or HTTs, are relatively common within major eukaryotic kingdoms, including animals, plants, and fungi, while rarely occurring across these kingdoms. Here, we describe the first case of HTT from animals to plants, involving TEs known as Penelope-like elements, or PLEs, a group of retrotransposons closely related to eukaryotic telomerases. Using a combination of in situ hybridization on chromosomes, polymerase chain reaction experiments, and computational analyses we show that the predominant PLE lineage, EN(+)PLEs, is highly diversified in loblolly pine and other conifers, but appears to be absent in other gymnosperms. Phylogenetic analyses of both protein and DNA sequences reveal that conifers EN(+)PLEs, or Dryads, form a monophyletic group clustering within a clade of primarily arthropod elements. Additionally, no EN(+)PLEs were detected in 1,928 genome assemblies from 1,029 nonmetazoan and nonconifer genomes from 14 major eukaryotic lineages. These findings indicate that Dryads emerged following an ancient horizontal transfer of EN(+)PLEs from arthropods to a common ancestor of conifers approximately 340 Ma. This represents one of the oldest known interspecific transmissions of TEs, and the most conspicuous case of DNA transfer between animals and plants.

published proceedings

  • Genome Biol Evol

altmetric score

  • 64.95

author list (cited authors)

  • Lin, X., Faridi, N., & Casola, C.

citation count

  • 29

complete list of authors

  • Lin, Xuan||Faridi, Nurul||Casola, Claudio

publication date

  • May 2016