Copia-like retrotransposable element evolution in diploid and polyploid cotton (Gossypium L.)

Pamela L. VanderWiel, Daniel F. Voytas, Jonathan F. Wendel

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85 Scopus citations


Copia-like retrotransposable elements were identified in allotetraploid cotton, Gossypium hirsutum, and two species representing its diploid progenitors, G. herbaceum and G. raimondii. These elements are present in high copy number in all three species. Because the two diploid genomic groups have been isolated on opposite sides of the world for 6-11 million years, horizontal transfer of elements between these species is highly unlikely. Elements were intensively sampled to generate a model of copia-like retrotransposable element evolution in systems where vertical transmission is the sole probable means of descent. Copia-like retrotransposon diversity is equally great in all three Gossypium species. Despite this high heterogeneity, analysis of 89 partial reverse transcriptase sequences resulted in the recognition of nine sharply differentiated retrotransposon lineages, each containing elements that share high sequence similarity. No evidence of horizontal transfer from other taxa was obtained. Phylogenetic analyses demonstrate that element topologies are incongruent with Gossypium phylogeny. Consideration of processes that obscure phylogenetic reconstruction of multigene families (including sampling error, variable degrees of orthology and paralogy, differential lineage age and lineage loss and/or proliferation) demonstrates that incongruence between organismal and retrotransposon trees is expected under conditions in which vertical processes are the sole means of transmission. Identification of closely related elements between species allowed rates of copia-like retrotransposon sequence evolution to be estimated as approximately 10-9 nucleotide substitutions/site/year. These rates are consistent with the interpretation that these retrotransposons have been evolving under functional constraints for most of the time frame bracketed by the species studied. Extrapolation of these results to previous studies that sampled from more highly divergent taxa indicates that horizontal transfer need not be invoked to explain observed phylogenetic patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)429-447
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Molecular Evolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1993


  • Copia, retrotransposons
  • Gossypium
  • Horizontal transmission
  • Molecular evolution
  • Orthology
  • Paralogy
  • Phylogenetic analysis
  • Polyploidy
  • Retrotransposable elements


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