Long-Term and Short-Term Evolutionary Impacts of Transposable Elements on Drosophila
Transposable elements (TEs) are considered to be genomic parasites and their interactions with their hosts have been likened to the coevolution between host and other nongenomic, horizontally transferred pathogens. TE families, however, are vertically inherited as integral segments of the nuclear genome. This transmission strategy has been suggested to weaken the selective benefits of host alleles repressing the transposition of specific TE variants. On the other hand, the elevated rates of TE transposition and high incidences of deleterious mutations observed during the rare cases of horizontal transfers of TE families between species could create at least a transient process analogous to the influence of horizontally transmitted pathogens. Here, we formally address this analogy, using empirical and theoretical analysis to specify the mechanism of how host–TE interactions may drive the evolution of host genes. We found that host TE-interacting genes actually have more pervasive evidence of adaptive evolution than immunity genes that interact with nongenomic pathogens in Drosophila. Yet, both our theoretical modeling and empirical observations comparing Drosophila melanogaster populations before and after the horizontal transfer of P elements, which invaded D. melanogaster early last century, demonstrated that horizontally transferred TEs have only a limited influence on host TE-interacting genes. We propose that the more prevalent and constant interaction with multiple vertically transmitted TE families may instead be the main force driving the fast evolution of TE-interacting genes, which is fundamentally different from the gene-for-gene interaction of host–pathogen coevolution.