Retrotransposons, which used to be considered as “junk DNA”, have begun to reveal their immense value to genome evolution and human biology due to recent studies. They consist of at least ~45% of the human genome and are more or less the same in other mammalian genomes. Retrotransposon elements (REs) are known to affect the human genome through many different mechanisms, such as generating insertion mutations, genomic instability, and alteration in gene expression. Previous studies have suggested several RE subfamilies, such as Alu, L1, SVA and LTR, are currently active in the human genome, and they are an important source of genetic diversity between human and other primates, as well as among humans. Although several groups had used Retrotransposon Insertion Polymorphisms (RIPs) as markers in studying primate evolutionary history, no study specifically focused on identifying Human-Specific Retrotransposon Element (HS-RE) and their roles in human genome evolution. In this study, by computationally comparing the human genome to 4 primate genomes, we identified a total of 18,860 HS-REs, among which are 11,664 Alus, 4,887 L1s, 1,526 SVAs and 783 LTRs (222 full length entries), representing the largest and most comprehensive list of HS-REs generated to date. Together, these HS-REs contributed a total of 14.2Mb sequence increase from the inserted REs and Target Site Duplications (TSDs), 71.6Kb increase from transductions, and 268.2 Kb sequence deletion of from insertion-mediated deletion, leading to a net increase of ~14 Mb sequences to the human genome. Furthermore, we observed for the first time that Y chromosome might be a hot target for new retrotransposon insertions in general and particularly for LTRs. The data also allowed for the first time the survey of frequency of TE insertions inside other TEs in comparison with TE insertion into none-TE regions. In summary, our data suggest that retrotransposon elements have played a significant role in the evolution of Homo sapiens.
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