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This content will become publicly available on May 1, 2023

Title: Giant Starship Elements Mobilize Accessory Genes in Fungal Genomes
Abstract Accessory genes are variably present among members of a species and are a reservoir of adaptive functions. In bacteria, differences in gene distributions among individuals largely result from mobile elements that acquire and disperse accessory genes as cargo. In contrast, the impact of cargo-carrying elements on eukaryotic evolution remains largely unknown. Here, we show that variation in genome content within multiple fungal species is facilitated by Starships, a newly discovered group of massive mobile elements that are 110 kb long on average, share conserved components, and carry diverse arrays of accessory genes. We identified hundreds of Starship-like regions across every major class of filamentous Ascomycetes, including 28 distinct Starships that range from 27 to 393 kb and last shared a common ancestor ca. 400 Ma. Using new long-read assemblies of the plant pathogen Macrophomina phaseolina, we characterize four additional Starships whose activities contribute to standing variation in genome structure and content. One of these elements, Voyager, inserts into 5S rDNA and contains a candidate virulence factor whose increasing copy number has contrasting associations with pathogenic and saprophytic growth, suggesting Voyager’s activity underlies an ecological trade-off. We propose that Starships are eukaryotic analogs of bacterial integrative and conjugative elements based on parallels between more » their conserved components and may therefore represent the first dedicated agents of active gene transfer in eukaryotes. Our results suggest that Starships have shaped the content and structure of fungal genomes for millions of years and reveal a new concerted route for evolution throughout an entire eukaryotic phylum. « less
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Larracuente, Amanda
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Molecular Biology and Evolution
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National Science Foundation
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