An age-of-allele test of neutrality for transposable element insertions

Justin P. Blumenstiel, Xi Chen, Miaomiao He, Casey M. Bergman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    How natural selection acts to limit the proliferation of transposable elements (TEs) in genomes has been of interest to evolutionary biologists for many years. To describe TE dynamics in populations, previous studies have used models of transposition-selection equilibrium that assume a constant rate of transposition. However, since TE invasions are known to happen in bursts through time, this assumption may not be reasonable. Here we propose a test of neutrality for TE insertions that does not rely on the assumption of a constant transposition rate. We consider the case of TE insertions that have been ascertained from a single haploid reference genome sequence. By conditioning on the age of an individual TE insertion allele (inferred by the number of unique substitutions that have occurred within the particular TE sequence since insertion), we determine the probability distribution of the insertion allele frequency in a population sample under neutrality. Taking models of varying population size into account, we then evaluate predictions of our model against allele frequency data from 190 retrotransposon insertions sampled from North American and African populations of Drosophila melanogaster. Using this nonequilibrium neutral model, we are able to explain ~80% of the variance in TE insertion allele frequencies based on age alone. Controlling for both nonequilibrium dynamics of transposition and host demography, we provide evidence for negative selection acting against most TEs as well as for positive selection acting on a small subset of TEs. Our work establishes a new framework for the analysis of the evolutionary forces governing large insertion mutations like TEs, gene duplications, or other copy number variants. © 2014 by the Genetics Society of America.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)523-538
    Number of pages15
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


    • Drosophila melanogaster
    • Genome evolution
    • Population genomics
    • Test of neutrality
    • Transposable elements (TEs)


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