Interspecies Insertion Polymorphism Analysis Reveals Recent Activity of Transposable Elements in Extant Coelacanths

<div><p>Coelacanths are lobe-finned fish represented by two extant species, <i>Latimeria chalumnae</i> in South Africa and Comoros and <i>L. menadoensis</i> in Indonesia. Due to their intermediate phylogenetic position between ray-finned fish and tetrapods in the vertebrate lineage, they are of great interest from an evolutionary point of view. In addition, extant specimens look similar to 300 million-year-old fossils; because of their apparent slowly evolving morphology, coelacanths have been often described as « living fossils ». As an underlying cause of such a morphological stasis, several authors have proposed a slow evolution of the coelacanth genome. Accordingly, sequencing of the <i>L. chalumnae</i> genome has revealed a globally low substitution rate for protein-coding regions compared to other vertebrates. However, genome and gene evolution can also be influenced by transposable elements, which form a major and dynamic part of vertebrate genomes through their ability to move, duplicate and recombine. In this work, we have searched for evidence of transposition activity in coelacanth genomes through the comparative analysis of orthologous genomic regions from both <i>Latimeria</i> species. Comparison of 5.7 Mb (0.2%) of the <i>L. chalumnae</i> genome with orthologous Bacterial Artificial Chromosome clones from <i>L. menadoensis</i> allowed the identification of 27 species-specific transposable element insertions, with a strong relative contribution of CR1 non-LTR retrotransposons. Species-specific homologous recombination between the long terminal repeats of a new coelacanth endogenous retrovirus was also detected. Our analysis suggests that transposon activity is responsible for at least 0.6% of genome divergence between both <i>Latimeria</i> species. Taken together, this study demonstrates that coelacanth genomes are not evolutionary inert: they contain recently active transposable elements, which have significantly contributed to post-speciation genome divergence in <i>Latimeria</i>.</p></div>