Journal Article

Conservation of Human Microsatellites across 450 Million Years of Evolution

Emmanuel Buschiazzo and Neil J. Gemmell

in Genome Biology and Evolution

Published on behalf of Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution

Volume 2, issue , pages 153-165
Published in print January 2010 |
Published online February 2010 | e-ISSN: 1759-6653 | DOI:

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The sequencing and comparison of vertebrate genomes have enabled the identification of widely conserved genomic elements. Chief among these are genes and cis-regulatory regions, which are often under selective constraints that promote their retention in related organisms. The conservation of elements that either lack function or whose functions are yet to be ascribed has been relatively little investigated. In particular, microsatellites, a class of highly polymorphic repetitive sequences considered by most to be neutrally evolving junk DNA that is too labile to be maintained in distant species, have not been comprehensively studied in a comparative genomic framework. Here, we used the UCSC alignment of the human genome against those of 11 mammalian and five nonmammalian vertebrates to identify and examine the extent of conservation of human microsatellites in vertebrate genomes. Out of 696,016 microsatellites found in human sequences, 85.39% were conserved in at least one other species, whereas 28.65% and 5.98% were found in at least one and three nonprimate species, respectively. An exponential decline of microsatellite conservation with increasing evolutionary time, a comparable distribution of conserved versus nonconserved microsatellites in the human genome, and a positive correlation between microsatellite conservation and overall sequence conservation, all suggest that most microsatellites are only maintained in genomes by chance, although exceptionally conserved human microsatellites were also found in distant mammals and other vertebrates. Our findings provide the first comprehensive survey of microsatellite conservation across deep evolutionary timescales, in this case 450 Myr of vertebrate evolution, and provide new tools for the identification of functional conserved microsatellites, the development of cross-species microsatellite markers and the study of microsatellite evolution above the species level.

Keywords: comparative genomics; multiple alignment; tandem repeats; vertebrates; mammals

Journal Article.  7501 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Bioinformatics and Computational Biology ; Evolutionary Biology ; Genetics and Genomics

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