DNA transposons mediate duplications via transposition-independent and -dependent mechanisms in metazoans


Despite long being considered as \“junk\“, transposable elements (TEs) are now accepted as catalysts of evolution. One example is Mutator-like elements (MULEs, one type of terminal inverted repeat DNA TEs, or TIR TEs) capturing sequences as Pack-MULEs in plants. However, their origination mechanism remains perplexing, and whether TIR TEs mediate duplication in animals is almost unexplored. Here we identify 370 Pack-TIRs in 100 animal reference genomes and one Pack-TIR (Ssk-FB4) family in fly populations. We find that single-copy Pack-TIRs are mostly generated via transposition-independent gap filling, and multicopy Pack-TIRs are likely generated by transposition after replication fork switching. We show that a proportion of Pack-TIRs are transcribed and often form chimeras with hosts. We also find that Ssk-FB4s represent a young protein family, as supported by proteomics and signatures of positive selection. Thus, TIR TEs catalyze new gene structures and new genes in animals via both transposition-independent and -dependent mechanisms.