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CR1 clade of non-LTR retrotransposons from Maculinea butterflies (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae): evidence for recent horizontal transmission

Olga Novikova1*, Ewa Śliwińska2, Victor Fet3, Josef Settele4, Alexander Blinov1 and Michal Woyciechowski2

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory of Molecular Evolution, Institute of Cytology and Genetics SB RAS, Novosibirsk, Russia

2 UJAG – Jagiellonian University, Institute of Environmental Sciences, Krakow, Poland

3 Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia, USA

4 Department of Community Ecology, UFZ – Centre for Environmental Research Leipzig-Halle, Halle (Saale), Germany

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:93  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-93

Published: 25 June 2007



Non-long terminal repeat (non-LTR) retrotransposons are mobile genetic elements that propagate themselves by reverse transcription of an RNA intermediate. Non-LTR retrotransposons are known to evolve mainly via vertical transmission and random loss. Horizontal transmission is believed to be a very rare event in non-LTR retrotransposons. Our knowledge of distribution and diversity of insect non-LTR retrotransposons is limited to a few species – mainly model organisms such as dipteran genera Drosophila, Anopheles, and Aedes. However, diversity of non-LTR retroelements in arthropods seems to be much richer. The present study extends the analysis of non-LTR retroelements to CR1 clade from four butterfly species of genus Maculinea (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae).

The lycaenid genus Maculinea, the object of interest for evolutionary biologists and also a model group for European biodiversity studies, possesses a unique, specialized myrmecophilous lifestyle at larval stage. Their caterpillars, after three weeks of phytophagous life on specific food plants drop to the ground where they are adopted to the ant nest by Myrmica foraging workers.


We found that the genome of Maculinea butterflies contains multiple CR1 lineages of non-LTR retrotransposons, including those from MacCR1A, MacCR1B and T1Q families. A comparative analysis of RT nucleotide sequences demonstrated an extremely high similarity among elements both in interspecific and intraspecific comparisons. CR1A-like elements were found only in family Lycaenidae. In contrast, MacCR1B lineage clones were extremely similar to CR1B non-LTR retrotransposons from Bombycidae moths: silkworm Bombyx mori and Oberthueria caeca.


The degree of coding sequence similarity of the studied elements, their discontinuous distribution, and results of divergence-versus-age analysis make it highly unlikely that these sequences diverged at the same time as their host taxa. The only reasonable alternative explanation is horizontal transfer. In addition, phylogenetic markers for population analysis of Maculinea could be developed based on the described non-LTR retrotransposons.