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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Multiple homoplasious insertions and deletions of a Triticeae (Poaceae) DNA transposon: a phylogenetic perspective

Roberta J Mason-Gamer

Author Affiliations

Department of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, M/C 066, Chicago, Illinois, USA

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:92  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-92

Published: 14 June 2007



Stowaway elements are short, non-autonomous DNA transposons categorized as miniature inverted-repeat transposable elements (MITEs). The high MITE copy number in grass genomes suggests an active history of amplification and insertion, but ongoing MITE activity has only rarely been seen, and ongoing Stowaway activity has never been observed. Thus, a phylogenetic perspective on presence vs. absence of elements in an aligned data set can provide valuable historical insights into the dynamics of MITE acquisition and loss.


A Stowaway-like element resides within the fourth intron of a β-amylase gene in representatives of five genera in the wheat tribe, Triticeae. Its presence vs. absence was examined with reference to the β-amylase gene tree topology, and in light of sequence comparisons of the β-amylase elements to Triticeae Stowaway elements in the Entrez nucleotide database. Among the sequences lacking the element, there are five distinct putative excision footprints (one widespread and four restricted to unrelated lineages) and two flanking deletions. The sequences that do contain elements are polyphyletic on the β-amylase tree, and their elements are divergent at the sequence level. The β-amylase elements do not form a monophyletic group relative to other Stowaway elements in Entrez; most are more similar to elements from other loci in other Triticeae genomes than they are to one another.


Combined, the phylogenetic distribution, sequence variation, and Entrez database comparisons indicate that a Stowaway-like element has undergone multiple deletions from and insertions into the same site in β-amylase intron 4 during the history of the tribe. The elements currently at the site represent multiple, distinct lineages that transcend generic boundaries. While patterns of Stowaway polymorphism across a phylogenetic data set do not allow evolutionary mechanisms to be inferred with certainty, they do provide insights into the dynamics of element evolution over an extended time scale. The historical perspective provided by a phylogenetic approach is complementary to the few studies in which ongoing MITE activity has been documented.