Horizontal transfer of a retrotransposon from the rice planthopper to the genome of an insect DNA virus

Qiankun Yang, Yan Zhang, Andika Ida Bagus, Zhenfeng Liao, Hideki Kondo, Yanhua Lu, Ye Cheng, Linying Li, Yuqing He, Yujuan He, Yuhua Qi, Zongtao Sun, Yuanhua Wu, Fei Yan, Jianping Chen, Junmin Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Horizontal transfer of genetic materials between virus and host has been frequently identified. Three rice planthoppers, Laodelphax striatellus, Nilaparvata lugens, and Sogatella furcifera, are agriculturally important insects because they are destructive rice pests and also the vector of a number of phytopathogenic viruses. In this study, we discovered that a small region (~300 nucleotides [nt]) of the genome of invertebrate iridescent virus 6 (IIV-6; genus Iridovirus, family Iridoviridae), a giant DNA virus that infects invertebrates but is not known to infect planthoppers, is highly homologous to the sequences present in high copy numbers in these three planthopper genomes. These sequences are related to the short interspersed nuclear elements (SINEs), a class of non-long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposons (retroposons), suggesting a horizontal transfer event of a transposable element from the rice planthopper genome to the IIV-6 genome. In addition, a number of planthopper transcripts mapped to these rice planthopper SINE-like sequences (RPSlSs) were identified and appear to be transcriptionally regulated along the different developmental stages of planthoppers. Small RNAs derived from these RPSlSs are predominantly 26 to 28 nt long, which is a typical characteristic of PIWI-interacting RNAs. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that IIV-6 acquires a SINE-like retrotransposon from S. furcifera after the evolutionary divergence of the three rice planthoppers. This study provides further examples of the horizontal transfer of an insect transposon to virus and suggests the association of rice planthoppers with iridoviruses in the past or present. IMPORTANCE This study provides an example of the horizontal transfer event from a rice planthopper genome to an IIV-6 genome. A small region of the IIV-6 genome (~300 nt) is highly homologous to the sequences presented in high copy numbers of three rice planthopper genomes that are related to the SINEs, a class of retroposons. The expression of these planthopper SINE-like sequences was confirmed, and corresponding Piwi-interacting RNA-like small RNAs were identified and comprehensively characterized. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that the giant invertebrate iridovirus IIV-6 obtains this SINE-related sequence from Sogatella furcifera through a horizontal transfer event in the past. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of a horizontal transfer event between a planthopper and a giant DNA virus and also is the first evidence for the eukaryotic origin of genetic material in iridoviruses.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01516-18
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2019


  • Horizontal transfer
  • Invertebrate iridescent virus 6
  • Iridovirus
  • Rice planthoppers
  • SINE
  • Transposable element
  • piRNAs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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