Biased distributions and decay of long interspersed nuclear elements in the chicken genome.

The genomes of birds are much smaller than mammalian genomes, and transposable elements (TEs) make up only 10% of the chicken genome, compared with the 45% of the human genome. To study the mechanisms that constrain the copy numbers of TEs, and as a consequence the genome size of birds, we analyzed the distributions of LINEs (CR1's) and SINEs (MIRs) on the chicken autosomes and Z chromosome. We show that (1) CR1 repeats are longest on the Z chromosome and their length is negatively correlated with the local GC content; (2) the decay of CR1 elements is highly biased, and the 5'-ends of the insertions are lost much faster than their 3'-ends; (3) the GC distribution of CR1 repeats shows a bimodal pattern with repeats enriched in both AT-rich and GC-rich regions of the genome, but the CR1 families show large differences in their GC distribution; and (4) the few MIRs in the chicken are most abundant in regions with intermediate GC content. Our results indicate that the primary mechanism that removes repeats from the chicken genome is ectopic exchange and that the low abundance of repeats in avian genomes is likely to be the consequence of their high recombination rates.