Accumulation of Transposable Elements in the Genome of Drosophila melanogaster is Associated with a Decrease in Fitness

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Replicates of the two isogenic laboratory strains of Drosophila melanogaster, 2b and Harwich, contain different average transposable element (TE) copy numbers in the same genetic background. These lines were used to analyze the correlation between TE copy number and fitness. Assuming a weak deleterious effect of each TE insertion, a decrease in fitness is expected with an increase in genomic TE copy number. Higher rates of ectopic exchanges and, consequently, chromosomal rearrangements resulting in early embryonic death are also predicted from an increase in TE copy number. Therefore egg hatchability is expected to decrease as the genomic TE copy number increases. In 2b, where replicate lines have diverged up by 90 TE copies per haploid genome, a negative correlation between the number of TE insertions and both fitness and egg hatchability were found. Neither correlation was significant for the Harwich replicates, which have only diverged by 30 TE copies. The average deleterious effect of a TE insertion on fitness and its components was estimated as 0.004. Both homozygous and heterozygous TE insertions were shown to have deleterious effects on fitness and its components.

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