Spradling and his colleagues, who oversee the NIH-funded Drosophila "Gene Disruption Project" used a database containing more than 50,000 genomic sites where P elements have inserted. They built this exceptional database over the last 20 years.
P elements insert into DNA very selectively. Nearly 40% of new jumps occur within just 300 genes and always near the beginning of the gene. But the genes seemed to have nothing in common. When these sites were compared to data about the Drosophila genome, particularly recent studies of Drosophila genome duplication, the answer became clear. What many P insertion sites share in common is an ability to function as starting sites or "origins" for DNA duplication. This association between P elements and the machinery of genome duplication suggested that they can coordinate their movement with DNA replication.
Spradling and his team propose that P elementsand likely other transposons as welluse a replication connection to spread more rapidly through genomes. These elements would only transpose after replicating, and then preferentially insert themselves into portions of DNA that have not yet become activated. This would allow them to duplicate twice rather than just once during the genome duplication cycle.
If the elements get a late start, however, only the last segments of the chromosome to duplicate will be left for their second duplication. This explains tendency of such regions to be transposon-rich. However, the researchers found that two other Drosophila transposons, known as piggyBac and Minos, do not insert at replication origins, so this mechanism is far from universal. Furthermore, Spradling cautioned that it is particularly difficult to experimentally test hypotheses about evolution.
"By gaining insight into one specific transposon's movements, we may have begun to glimpse mechanism
|Contact: Allan Spradling |