Open Access Open Badges Research article

Expansion of CORE-SINEs in the genome of the Tasmanian devil

Maria A Nilsson1*, Axel Janke13, Elizabeth P Murchison2, Zemin Ning2 and Björn M Hallström1

Author Affiliations

1 LOEWE - Biodiversity and Climate Research Center, BiK-F, Senckenberganlage 25, Frankfurt am Main, D-60325, Germany

2 Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, CB10 1SA, UK

3 Goethe University Frankfurt, BioCampus, Siesmayerstr. 70, Frankfurt am Main, 60323, Germany

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Genomics 2012, 13:172  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-172

Published: 6 May 2012



The genome of the carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii, Order: Dasyuromorphia), was sequenced in the hopes of finding a cure for or gaining a better understanding of the contagious devil facial tumor disease that is threatening the species’ survival. To better understand the Tasmanian devil genome, we screened it for transposable elements and investigated the dynamics of short interspersed element (SINE) retroposons.


The temporal history of Tasmanian devil SINEs, elucidated using a transposition in transposition analysis, indicates that WSINE1, a CORE-SINE present in around 200,000 copies, is the most recently active element. Moreover, we discovered a new subtype of WSINE1 (WSINE1b) that comprises at least 90% of all Tasmanian devil WSINE1s. The frequencies of WSINE1 subtypes differ in the genomes of two of the other Australian marsupial orders. A co-segregation analysis indicated that at least 66 subfamilies of WSINE1 evolved during the evolution of Dasyuromorphia. Using a substitution rate derived from WSINE1 insertions, the ages of the subfamilies were estimated and correlated with a newly established phylogeny of Dasyuromorphia. Phylogenetic analyses and divergence time estimates of mitochondrial genome data indicate a rapid radiation of the Tasmanian devil and the closest relative the quolls (Dasyurus) around 14 million years ago.


The radiation and abundance of CORE-SINEs in marsupial genomes indicates that they may be a major player in the evolution of marsupials. It is evident that the early phases of evolution of the carnivorous marsupial order Dasyuromorphia was characterized by a burst of SINE activity. A correlation between a speciation event and a major burst of retroposon activity is for the first time shown in a marsupial genome.

SINE; WSINE1; Retroposon; Tasmanian devil; Sarcophilus; Genome; Marsupials