Accurate transposable element annotation is vital when analyzing new genome assemblies

Roy N. Platt, Laura Blanco-Berdugo, David A. Ray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Transposable elements (TEs) are mobile genetic elements with the ability to replicate themselves throughout the host genome. In some taxa TEs reach copy numbers in hundreds of thousands and can occupy more than half of the genome. The increasing number of reference genomes from nonmodel species has begun to outpace efforts to identify and annotate TE content and methods that are used vary significantly between projects. Here, we demonstrate variation that arises in TE annotations when less than optimal methods are used. We found that across a variety of taxa, the ability to accurately identify TEs based solely on homology decreased as the phylogenetic distance between the queried genome and a reference increased. Next we annotated repeats using homology alone, as is often the case in new genome analyses, and a combination of homology and de novo methods as well as an additional manual curation step. Reannotation using these methods identified a substantial number of new TE subfamilies in previously characterized genomes, recognized a higher proportion of the genome as repetitive, and decreased the average genetic distance within TE families, implying recent TE accumulation. Finally, these finding-increased recognition of younger TEs-were confirmed via an analysis of the postman butterfly (Heliconius melpomene). These observations imply that complete TE annotation relies on a combination of homology and de novo-based repeat identification, manual curation, and classification and that relying on simple, homology-based methods is insufficient to accurately describe the TE landscape of a newly sequenced genome.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-410
Number of pages8
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2016


  • Genome annotation
  • Heliconius melpomene
  • Heterocephalus glaber
  • Microtus ochrogaster
  • Transposable elements


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