De-novo emergence of SINE retroposons during the early evolution of passerine birds

Alexander Suh, Sandra Bachg, Stephen Donnellan, Leo Joseph, Jürgen Brosius, Jan Ole Kriegs, Jürgen Schmitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Passeriformes ("perching birds" or passerines) make up more than half of all extant bird species. The genome of the zebra finch, a passerine model organism for vocal learning, was noted previously to contain thousands of short interspersed elements (SINEs), a group of retroposons that is abundant in mammalian genomes but considered largely inactive in avian genomes. Results: Here we resolve the deep phylogenetic relationships of passerines using presence/absence patterns of SINEs. The resultant retroposon-based phylogeny provides a powerful and independent corroboration of previous sequence-based analyses. Notably, SINE activity began in the common ancestor of Eupasseres (passerines excluding the New Zealand wrens Acanthisittidae) and ceased before the rapid diversification of oscine passerines (suborder Passeri - songbirds). Furthermore, we find evidence for very recent SINE activity within suboscine passerines (suborder Tyranni), following the emergence of a SINE via acquisition of a different tRNA head as we suggest through template switching. Conclusions: We propose that the early evolution of passerines was unusual among birds in that it was accompanied by de-novo emergence and activity of SINEs. Their genomic and transcriptomic impact warrants further study in the light of the massive diversification of passerines.

Original languageEnglish
Article number21
JournalMobile DNA
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2017


  • Birds
  • Passeriformes
  • Phylogenomics
  • Retroposon
  • SINE
  • Transposon

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