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Warmuth, Vera M.; Weissensteiner, Matthias H. and Wolf, Jochen B. W. (2022): Accumulation and ineffective silencing of transposable elements on an avian W Chromosome. In: Genome Research, Vol. 32, No. 4: pp. 671-681

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One of the defining features of transposable elements (TEs) is their ability to move to new locations in the host genome. To minimize the potentially deleterious effects of de novo TE insertions, hosts have evolved several mechanisms to control TE activity, including recombination-mediated removal and epigenetic silencing;however, increasing evidence suggests that silencing of TEs is often incomplete. The crow family experienced a recent radiation of LTR retrotransposons (LTRs), offering an opportunity to gain insight into the regulatory control of young, potentially still active TEs. We quantified the abundance of TE-derived transcripts across several tissues in 15 Eurasian crows (Corvus (corone) spp.) raised under common garden conditions and find evidence for ineffective TE suppression on the female-specific W Chromosome. Using RNA-seq data, we show that similar to 9.5% of all transcribed TEs had considerably greater (average, 16-fold) transcript abundance in female crows and that >85% of these female-biased TEs originated on the W Chromosome. After accounting for differences in TE density among chromosomal classes, W-linked TEs were significantly more highly expressed than TEs residing on other chromosomes, consistent with ineffective silencing on the former. Together, our results suggest that the crow W Chromosome acts as a source of transcriptionally active TEs, with possible negative fitness consequences for female birds analogous to Drosophila (an X/Y system), in which overexpression of Y-linked TEs is associated with male-specific aging and fitness loss (toxic Y).

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