Horizontal transposon transfer and its implications for the ancestral ecology of hydrophiine snakes

James D. Galbraith, Alastair J. Ludington, Kate L. Sanders, Timothy G. Amos, Vicki A. Thomson, Daniel Enosi Tuipulotu, Nathan Dunstan, Richard J. Edwards, Alexander Suh, David L. Adelson

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Transposable elements (TEs), also known as jumping genes, are sequences able to move or copy themselves within a genome. As TEs move throughout genomes they often act as a source of genetic novelty, hence understanding TE evolution within lineages may help in understanding environmental adaptation. Studies into the TE content of lineages of mammals such as bats have uncovered horizontal transposon transfer (HTT) into these lineages, with squamates often also containing the same TEs. Despite the repeated finding of HTT into squamates, little comparative research has examined the evolution of TEs within squamates. Here we examine a diverse family of Australo–Melanesian snakes (Hydrophiinae) to examine if the previously identified, order-wide pattern of variable TE content and activity holds true on a smaller scale. Hydrophiinae diverged from Asian elapids ~30 Mya and have since rapidly diversified into six amphibious, ~60 marine and ~100 terrestrial species that fill a broad range of ecological niches. We find TE diversity and expansion differs between hydrophiines and their Asian relatives and identify multiple HTTs into Hydrophiinae, including three likely transferred into the ancestral hydrophiine from fish. These HTT events provide the first tangible evidence that Hydrophiinae reached Australia from Asia via a marine route.
Original languageEnglish
Article number217
Issue number2
Early online date25 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • Comparative genomics
  • Serpentes
  • Transposable element

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