Retrotransposons and the Evolution of Genome Size in Pisum

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Here we investigate the plant population genetics of retrotransposon insertion sites in pea to find out whether genetic drift and the neutral theory of molecular evolution can account for their abundance in the pea genome. (1) We asked whether two contrasting types of pea LTR-containing retrotransposons have the frequency and age distributions consistent with the behavior of neutral alleles and whether these parameters can explain the rate of change of genome size in legumes. (2) We used the recently assembled v1a pea genome sequence to obtain data on LTR-LTR divergence from which their age can be estimated. We coupled these data to prior information on the distribution of insertion site alleles. (3) We found that the age and frequency distribution data are consistent with the neutral theory. (4) We concluded that demographic processes are the underlying cause of genome size variation in legumes.