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Open Access Research

Identification, characterization and comparative genomics of chimpanzee endogenous retroviruses

Nalini Polavarapu, Nathan J Bowen and John F McDonald*

Author Affiliations

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332-0230, USA

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Genome Biology 2006, 7:R51  doi:10.1186/gb-2006-7-6-r51

Published: 28 June 2006

Abstract

Background

Retrotransposons, the most abundant and widespread class of eukaryotic transposable elements, are believed to play a significant role in mutation and disease and to have contributed significantly to the evolution of genome structure and function. The recent sequencing of the chimpanzee genome is providing an unprecedented opportunity to study the functional significance of these elements in two closely related primate species and to better evaluate their role in primate evolution.

Results

We report here that the chimpanzee genome contains at least 42 separate families of endogenous retroviruses, nine of which were not previously identified. All but two (CERV 1/PTERV1 and CERV 2) of the 42 families of chimpanzee endogenous retroviruses were found to have orthologs in humans. Molecular analysis (PCR and Southern hybridization) of CERV 2 elements demonstrates that this family is present in chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla and old-world monkeys but absent in human, orangutan and new-world monkeys. A survey of endogenous retroviral positional variation between chimpanzees and humans determined that approximately 7% of all chimpanzee-human INDEL variation is associated with endogenous retroviral sequences.

Conclusion

Nine families of chimpanzee endogenous retroviruses have been transpositionally active since chimpanzees and humans diverged from a common ancestor. Seven of these transpositionally active families have orthologs in humans, one of which has also been transpositionally active in humans since the human-chimpanzee divergence about six million years ago. Comparative analyses of orthologous regions of the human and chimpanzee genomes have revealed that a significant portion of INDEL variation between chimpanzees and humans is attributable to endogenous retroviruses and may be of evolutionary significance.