Copy number variation of ribosomal DNA and Pokey transposons in natural populations of Daphnia.Mob DNA. 2012 Mar 05; 3(1):4.MD
Despite their ubiquity and high diversity in eukaryotic genomes, DNA transposons are rarely encountered in ribosomal DNA (rDNA). In contrast, R-elements, a diverse group of non-LTR retrotransposons, specifically target rDNA. Pokey is a DNA transposon that targets a specific rDNA site, but also occurs in many other genomic locations, unlike R-elements. However, unlike most DNA transposons, Pokey has been a stable component of Daphnia genomes for over 100 million years. Here we use qPCR to estimate the number of 18S and 28S ribosomal RNA genes and Pokey elements in rDNA (rPokey), as well as other genomic locations (gPokey) in two species of Daphnia. Our goals are to estimate the correlation between (1) the number of 18S and 28S rRNA genes, (2) the number of 28S genes and rPokey, and (3) the number of rPokey and gPokey. In addition, we ask whether Pokey number and distribution in both genomic compartments are affected by differences in life history between D. pulex and D. pulicaria.
We found differences in 18S and 28S gene number within isolates that are too large to be explained by experimental variation. In general, Pokey number within isolates is modest (< 20), and most are gPokey. There is no correlation between the number of rRNA genes and rPokey, or between rPokey and gPokey. However, we identified three isolates with unusually high numbers of both rPokey and gPokey, which we infer is a consequence of recent transposition. We also detected other rDNA insertions (rInserts) that could be degraded Pokey elements, R- elements or the divergent PokeyB lineage recently detected in the Daphnia genome sequence. Unlike rPokey, rInserts are positively correlated with rRNA genes, suggesting that they are amplified by the same mechanisms that amplify rDNA units even though rPokey is not. Overall, Pokey frequency and distribution are similar in D. pulex and D. pulicaria suggesting that differences in life history have no impact on Pokey.
The possibility that many rDNA units do not contain a copy of both 18S and 28S genes suggests that rDNA is much more complicated than once thought, and warrants further study. In addition, the lack of correlation between rPokey, gPokey and rDNA unit numbers suggests that Pokey transposition rate is generally very low, and that recombination, in combination with natural selection, eliminates rPokey much faster than gPokey. Our results suggest that further research to determine the mechanisms by which Pokey has escaped complete inactivation by its host (the usual fate of DNA transposons), would provide important insights into transposon biology.