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Open Access Research article

Analysis of the features and source gene composition of the AluYg6 subfamily of human retrotransposons

Pamela Styles and John FY Brookfield*

Author Affiliations

Institute of Genetics, School of Biology, University of Nottingham, Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:102  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-102

Published: 1 July 2007

Abstract

Background

Alu elements are a family of SINE retrotransposons in primates. They are classified into subfamilies according to specific diagnostic mutations from the general Alu consensus. It is now believed that there may be several retrotranspositionally-competent source genes within an Alu subfamily. To investigate the evolution of young Alu elements it is critical to have access to complete subfamilies, which, following the release of the final human genome assembly, can now be obtained using in silico methods.

Results

380 elements belonging to the young AluYg6 subfamily were identified in the human genome, a number significantly exceeding prior expectations. An AluYg6 element was also identified in the chimpanzee genome, indicating that the subfamily is older than previously estimated, and appears to have undergone a period of dormancy before its expansion. The relative contributions of back mutation and gene conversion to variation at the six diagnostic positions are examined, and cases of complete forward gene conversion events are reported. Two small subfamilies derived from AluYg6 have been identified, named AluYg6a2 and AluYg5b3, which contain 40 and 27 members, respectively. These small subfamilies are used to illustrate the ambiguity regarding Alu subfamily definition, and to assess the contribution of secondary source genes to the AluYg6 subfamily.

Conclusion

The number of elements in the AluYg6 subfamily greatly exceeds prior expectations, indicating that the current knowledge of young Alu subfamilies is incomplete, and that prior analyses that have been carried out using these data may have generated inaccurate results. A definition of primary and secondary source genes has been provided, and it has been shown that several source genes have contributed to the proliferation of the AluYg6 subfamily. Access to the sequence data for the complete AluYg6 subfamily will be invaluable in future computational analyses investigating the evolution of young Alu subfamilies.