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The Ta (transcribed, subset a) subfamily of L1 LINEs (long interspersed elements) is characterized by a 3-bp ACA sequence in the 3′ untranslated region and contains ∼520 members in the human genome. Here, we have extracted 468 Ta L1Hs (L1 human specific) elements from the draft human genomic sequence and screened individual elements using polymerase-chain-reaction (PCR) assays to determine their phylogenetic origin and levels of human genomic diversity. One hundred twenty-four of the elements amenable to complete sequence analysis were full length (∼6 kb) and have apparently escaped any 5′ truncation. Forty-four of these full-length elements have two intact open reading frames and may be capable of retrotransposition. Sequence analysis of the Ta L1 elements showed a low level of nucleotide divergence with an estimated age of 1.99 million years, suggesting that expansion of the L1 Ta subfamily occurred after the divergence of humans and African apes. A total of 262 Ta L1 elements were screened with PCR-based assays to determine their phylogenetic origin and the level of human genomic variation associated with each element. All of the Ta L1 elements analyzed by PCR were absent from the orthologous positions in nonhuman primate genomes, except for a single element (L1HS72) that was also present in the common (Pan troglodytes) and pygmy (P. paniscus) chimpanzee genomes. Sequence analysis revealed that this single exception is the product of a gene conversion event involving an older preexisting L1 element. One hundred fifteen (45%) of the Ta L1 elements were polymorphic with respect to insertion presence or absence and will serve as identical-by-descent markers for the study of human evolution.

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American Journal of Human Genetics

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