Alu repeats: A source for the genesis of primate microsatellites

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As a result of their abundance, relatively uniform distribution, and high degree of polymorphism, microsatellites and minisatellites have become valuable tools in genetic mapping, forensic identity testing, and population studies. In recent years, a number of microsatellite repeats have been found to be associated with Alu interspersed repeated DNA elements. The association of an Alu element with a microsatellite repeat could result from the integration of an Alu element within a preexisting microsatellite repeat. Alternatively, Alu elements could have a direct role in the origin of microsatellite repeats. Errors introduced during reverse transcription of the primary transcript derived from an Alu 'master' gene or the accumulation of random mutations in the middle A-rich regions and oligo(dA)-rich tails of Alu elements after insertion and subsequent expansion and contraction of these sequences could result in the genesis of a microsatellite repeat. We have tested these hypotheses by a direct evolutionary comparison of the sequences of some recent Alu elements that are found only in humans and are absent from nonhuman primates, as well as some older Alu elements that are present at orthologous positions in a number of nonhuman primates. The origin of 'young' Alu insertions, absence of sequences that resemble microsatellite repeats at the orthologous loci in chimpanzees, and the gradual expansion of microsatellite repeats in some old Alu repeats at orthologous positions within the genomes of a number of nonhuman primates suggest that Alu elements are a source for the genesis of primate microsatellite repeats. © 1995 Academic Press, Inc.

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