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The L1 Ta subfamily of long interspersed elements (LINEs) consists exclusively of human-specific L1 elements. Polymerase chain reaction-based screening in nonhuman primate genomes of the orthologous sites for 249 human L1 Ta elements resulted in the recovery of various types of sequence variants for approximately 12% of these loci. Sequence analysis was employed to capture the nature of the observed variation and to determine the levels of gene conversion and insertion site homoplasy associated with LINE elements. Half of the orthologous loci differed from the predicted sizes due to localized sequence variants that occurred as a result of common mutational processes in ancestral sequences, often including regions containing simple sequence repeats. Additional sequence variation included genomic deletions that occurred upon L1 insertion, as well as successive mobile element insertions that accumulated within a single locus over evolutionary time. Parallel independent mobile element insertions at orthologous loci in distinct species may introduce homoplasy into retroelement-based phylogenetic and population genetic data. We estimate the overall frequency of parallel independent insertion events at L1 insertion sites in seven different primate species to be very low (052%). In addition, no cases of insertion site homoplasy involved the integration of a second L1 element at any of the loci, but rather largely involved secondary insertions of Alu elements. No independent mobile element insertion events were found at orthologous loci in the human and chimpanzee genomes. Therefore, L1 insertion polymorphisms appear to be essentially homoplasy free characters well suited for the study of population genetics and phylogenetic relationships within closely related species.

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Molecular Biology and Evolution

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