Philipp Hummer


A history of genomic conquest: What can sequence data from historic sources tell us about the dynamics of transposable element invasions?

MSc Student
Advisor: Mihaela Pavlicev

Unit for Theoretical Biology, Department of Evolutionary Biology
University of Vienna


Transposable elements (TEs) are selfish genetic elements that replicate within the host genome. TEs make up a vast majority of what used to be referred to as highly repetitive “junk” DNA and they are an omnipresent feature of eukaryotic genomes. Their spread is highly mutagenic and therefore associated with varying costs to hosts. Yet they are also a major source of evolutionary novelty However, it is currently not well understood how and how often TEs are introduced into genomes from one species to another through horizontal transfer, thereby triggering TE invasions. Very recently, the Kofler group at Vetmed Uni has conducted bioinformatic analysis on genomic sequence data from historic Drosophila melanogaster specimens, which revealed an unexpectedly high rate of transfers (one each 30 years). This raises the important open question of whether such a high rate of genome invasions can also be found for other species. The goal of my project is to sequence the genomes of specimens from natural history collections of various insect species. For this, I have adapted a protocol on non-destructive DNA extraction which assures that these valuable museum vouchers remain intact for future generations. Further, I will then also analyze the sequence data bioinformatically for “missing TEs”. If we do indeed detect recent TE invasions, this might require us to rethink the rate at which they can occur in nature. This might then have implications for the role of horizontal gene transfer in the evolution of animals overall.