Evidence of horizontal transmission of the cancer-associated Steamer retrotransposon among ecological cohort bivalve species

Bivalve specimens from legacy frozen tissue collections, and others freshly obtained, were surveyed for the presence of the Steamer long terminal repeat (LTR)-retrotransposon associated with disseminated hemic neoplasia of the soft-shelled clam Mya areneria. Of 22 species investigated using primers for the pol region, only Atlantic M. arenaria, Atlantic and North Sea razor clams Ensis directus, and Baltic clams Macoma balthica from the North Sea were found to possess copies of Steamer in their genomes. Notably, close relatives like Mya truncata and Siliqua patula did not exhibit evidence of Steamer. Amplified Steamer sequences were uniformly identical in all M. areneria specimens, and were highly variable across specimens of E. directus. Variation in the latter included nucleotide polymorphisms among and within individuals as well as length variation in 2 specimens corresponding to the deletion of a predicted stable hairpin structure. Results implicate Atlantic razor clams as the proximal source for horizontal transmission of Steamer among ecologically similar yet markedly distantly related bivalves. The consequences of cross-species transmission of the Steamer retrotransposon are unknown, and the finding of Steamer in 3 bivalve species suggests that further spread is possible.

Ashley N. Paynter, Michael J. Metzger, Jocelyn A. Sessa, Mark E. Siddall, Diseases of aquatic organisms, vol. 124 (2), p. 165-168, 2017

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