LINE-like retrotransposons, the so-called I elements, control the system of I-R (inducer-reactive) hybrid dysgenesis in Drosophila melanogaster. I elements are present in many Drosophila species. It has been suggested that active, complete I elements, located at different sites on the chromosomes, invaded natural populations of D. melanogaster recently (1920-1970). But old strains lacking active I elements have only defective I elements located in the chromocenter. We have cloned I elements from D. melanogaster and the melanogaster subgroup. In D. melanogaster, the nucleotide sequences of chromocentral I elements differed from those on chromosome arms by as much as 7%. All the I elements of D. mauritiana and D. sechellia are more closely related to the chromosomal I elements of D. melanogaster than to the chromocentral I elements in any species. No sequence difference was observed in the surveyed region between two chromosomal I elements isolated from D. melanogaster and one from D. simulans. These findings strongly support the idea that the defective chromocentral I elements of D. melanogaster originated before the species diverged and the chromosomal I elements were eliminated. The chromosomal I elements reinvaded natural populations of D. melanogaster recently, and were possibly introduced from D. simulans by horizontal transmission.
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