Current Biology

The Diversity, Structure, and Function of Heritable Adaptive Immunity Sequences in the Aedes aegypti Genome

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The Aedes aegypti mosquito transmits arboviruses, including dengue, chikungunya, and Zika virus. Understanding the mechanisms underlying mosquito immunity could provide new tools to control arbovirus spread. Insects exploit two different RNAi pathways to combat viral and transposon infection: short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) [1, 2]. Endogenous viral elements (EVEs) are sequences from non-retroviral viruses that are inserted into the mosquito genome and can act as templates for the production of piRNAs [3, 4]. EVEs therefore represent a record of past infections and a reservoir of potential immune memory [5]. The large-scale organization of EVEs has been difficult to resolve with short-read sequencing because they tend to integrate into repetitive regions of the genome. To define the diversity, organization, and function of EVEs, we took advantage of the contiguity associated with long-read sequencing to generate a high-quality assembly of the Ae. aegypti-derived Aag2 cell line genome, an important and widely used model system. We show EVEs are acquired through recombination with specific classes of long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposons and organize into large loci (>50 kbp) characterized by high LTR density. These EVE-containing loci have increased density of piRNAs compared to similar regions without EVEs. Furthermore, we detected EVE-derived piRNAs consistent with a targeted processing of persistently infecting virus genomes. We propose that comparisons of EVEs across mosquito populations may explain differences in vector competence, and further study of the structure and function of these elements in the genome of mosquitoes may lead to epidemiological interventions. Whitfield et al. perform a genome-wide characterization of the endogenous viral elements (EVEs) present in the Aedes aegypti-derived Aag2 cell line. Using long-read sequencing suited to the highly repetitive mosquito genome, they explore the origin of these sequences and their potential role in mosquito immunity.