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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Maintenance of transposon-free regions throughout vertebrate evolution

Cas Simons, Igor V Makunin, Michael Pheasant and John S Mattick*

Author Affiliations

Australian Research Council Special Research Center for Functional and Applied Genomics, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland, St Lucia QLD 4072, Australia

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BMC Genomics 2007, 8:470  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-8-470

Published: 20 December 2007



We recently reported the existence of large numbers of regions up to 80 kb long that lack transposon insertions in the human, mouse and opossum genomes. These regions are significantly associated with loci involved in developmental and transcriptional regulation.


Here we report that transposon-free regions (TFRs) are prominent genomic features of amphibian and fish lineages, and that many have been maintained throughout vertebrate evolution, although most transposon-derived sequences have entered these lineages after their divergence. The zebrafish genome contains 470 TFRs over 10 kb and a further 3,951 TFRs over 5 kb, which is comparable to the number identified in mammals. Two thirds of zebrafish TFRs over 10 kb are orthologous to TFRs in at least one mammal, and many have orthologous TFRs in all three mammalian genomes as well as in the genome of Xenopus tropicalis. This indicates that the mechanism responsible for the maintenance of TFRs has been active at these loci for over 450 million years. However, the majority of TFR bases cannot be aligned between distantly related species, demonstrating that TFRs are not the by-product of strong primary sequence conservation. Syntenically conserved TFRs are also more enriched for regulatory genes compared to lineage-specific TFRs.


We suggest that TFRs contain extended regulatory sequences that contribute to the precise expression of genes central to early vertebrate development, and can be used as predictors of important regulatory regions.