Evolutionary dynamics of the pericentromeric heterochromatin in drosophila virilis and related species.
Pericentromeric heterochromatin in Drosophila generally consists of repetitive DNA, forming the environment associated with gene silencing. Despite the expanding knowledge of the impact of transposable elements (TEs) on the host genome, little is known about the evolution of pericentromeric heterochromatin, its structural composition, and age. During the evolution of the Drosophilidae, hundreds of genes have become embedded within pericentromeric regions yet retained activity. We investigated a pericentromeric heterochromatin fragment found in D. virilis and related species, describing the evolution of genes in this region and the age of TE invasion. Regardless of the heterochromatic environment, the amino acid composition of the genes is under purifying selection. However, the selective pressure affects parts of genes in varying degrees, resulting in expansion of gene introns due to TEs invasion. According to the divergence of TEs, the pericentromeric heterochromatin of the species of virilis group began to form more than 20 million years ago by invasions of retroelements, miniature inverted repeat transposable elements (MITEs), and Helitrons. Importantly, invasions into the heterochromatin continue to occur by TEs that fall under the scope of piRNA silencing. Thus, the pericentromeric heterochromatin, in spite of its ability to induce silencing, has the means for being dynamic, incorporating the regions of active transcription.