Mobile genetic elements, by virtue of their ability to move to new chromosomal locations, are considered important in shaping the evolutionary course of the genome. They are widespread in the biological kingdom. Among the protozoan parasites several types of transposable elements are encountered. The largest variety is seen in the trypanosomatids—Trypanosoma brucei, Trypanosoma cruzi andCrithidia fasciculata. They contain elements that insert site-specifically in the spliced-leader RNA genes, and others that are dispersed in a variety of genomic locations.Giardia lamblia contains three families of transposable elements. Two of these are subtelomeric in location while one is chromosomeinternal.Entamoeba histolytica has an abundant retrotransposon dispersed in the genome. Nucleotide sequence analysis of all the elements shows that they are all retrotransposons, and, with the exception of one class of elements inT. cruzi, all of them are non-long-terminal-repeat retrotransposons. Although most copies have accumulated mutations, they can potentially encode reverse transcriptase, endonuclease and nucleic-acid-binding activities. Functionally and phylogenetically they do not belong to a single lineage, showing that retrotransposons were acquired early in the evolution of protozoan parasites. Many of the potentially autonomous elements that encode their own transposition functions have nonautonomous counterparts that probably utilize the functions intrans. In this respect these elements are similar to the mammalian LINEs and SINEs (long and short interspersed DNA elements), showing a common theme in the evolution of retrotransposons. So far there is no report of a DNA transposon in any protozoan parasite. The genome projects that are under way for most of these organisms will help understand the evolution and possible function of these genetic elements.
Volume 100, 2021
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