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Open Access Research article

Source gene composition and gene conversion of the AluYh and AluYi lineages of retrotransposons

Pamela Styles and John FY Brookfield*

Author Affiliations

Institute of Genetics, School of Biology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:102  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-102

Published: 14 May 2009



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. In this study, subfamilies falling on the AluYi and AluYh lineages, and the AluYg6 subfamily, are assessed for the presence of secondary source genes, and the influence of gene conversion on the AluYh and AluYi lineages is also described.


The AluYh7 and AluYi6 subfamilies appear to contain multiple source genes. The novel subfamilies AluYh3a1 and AluYh3a3 are described, for which there is no convincing evidence to suggest the presence of secondary sources. The mutational substructure of AluYh3a3 can be explained completely by inference of single master gene. A complete backwards gene conversion event appears to have inactivated the AluYh3a3 master gene in humans. Polymorphism data suggest a larger number of secondary source elements may be active in the AluYg6 family than previously thought.


It is clear that there is considerable variation in the number of source genes present in each of the young Alu subfamilies. This can range from a single master source gene, as for AluYh3a3, to as many as 14 source elements in AluYi6.