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SINEs are short interspersed retrotransposable elements that invade new genomic sites. Their retrotransposition depends on reverse transcriptase and endonuclease activities encoded by partner LINEs (long interspersed elements). Recent genomic research has demonstrated that retroposons account for at least 40% of the human genome. Hitherto, more than 30 families of SINEs have been characterized in mammalian genomes, comprising ∼4600 extant species; the distribution and extent of SINEs in reptilian genomes, however, are poorly documented. With more than 7400 species of lizards and snakes, Squamata constitutes the largest and most diverse group of living reptiles. We have discovered and characterized a novel SINE family, Sauria SINEs, whose members are widely distributed among genomes of lizards, snakes, and tuataras. Sauria SINEs comprise a 5′ tRNA-related region, a tRNA-unrelated region, and a 3′ tail region (containing short tandem repeats) derived from LINEs. We distinguished eight Sauria SINE subfamilies in genomes of four major squamate lineages and investigated their evolutionary relationships. Our data illustrate the overall efficacy of Sauria SINEs as novel retrotransposable markers for elucidation of squamate evolutionary history. We show that all Sauria SINEs share an identical 3′ sequence with Bov-B LINEs and propose that they utilize the enzymatic machinery of Bov-B LINEs for their own retrotransposition. This finding, along with the ubiquity of Bov-B LINEs previously demonstrated in squamate genomes, suggests that these LINEs have been an active partner of Sauria SINEs since this SINE family was generated more than 200 million years ago. © Springer-Verlag New York, LLC 2004.

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Journal of Molecular Evolution

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