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Does the size of piRNA clusters predict the abundance of transposable element insertions?

Life is a struggle for survival where, for example, parasites prey on their hosts and hosts combat their parasites. Surprising to many, this battle also rages in our genomes. Parasitic DNA spreads in our genomes, even if this is harming our health. These parasitic sequences, also called transposable elements (TEs), have been remarkably successful, constituting more than 50% of our human genomes. Interestingly, the abundance of TEs varies dramatically among species. For example the frog genome consists to 77% of TEs while yeast solely has 3%. Why is the frog ending up with so many more TEs than yeast? In this project we aim to find some answers to this important open question. Our computer simulations previously identified a factor that could be central to this question. The size of piRNA clusters - genomic regions producing small RNAs that silence TEs - might be the most important factor governing the abundance of TEs in species. If we imagineTEs as mice that happily multiply within a house (=the genome), then the piRNA clusters can be imagined as mousetraps. If a house has few mousetraps, then the number of mice in the house will be high, whereas the mice population will be kept small if many mousetraps have been distributed over the house. Similarly genomes with small piRNA clusters may accumulate a lot of TEs, whereas genomes with large clusters may solely end up with few TEs.In this project we will test this hypothesis by studying the size of piRNA clusters and the abundance of TEs in many different Drosophila species. Furthermore we will artificially introduce a TE into different Drosophila species and test if the size of the piRNA cluster accurately predicts the abundance of this novel TE. Finally we aim to develop computer models that are able to describe the spread of TEs. In particular we will test if the size of piRNA clusters and other factors, such as negative selection against TEs, are sufficient to quantitatively predict the curse of TE invasions.
Abundance of transposons
Project leader
Kofler Robert
FWF Einzelprojekte
Type of Research
Basic research
Vetmed Research Units
Institute of Population Genetics
Funded by
FWF - Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung, Wien, Austria

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