House dust mites are common pests with an unusual evolutionary history, being descendants of a parasitic ancestor. Transition to parasitism is frequently accompanied by genome rearrangements, possibly to accommodate the genetic change needed to access new ecology. Transposable element (TE) activity is a source of genomic instability that can trigger large-scale genomic alterations. Eukaryotes have multiple transposon control mechanisms, one of which is RNA interference (RNAi). Investigation of the dust mite genome failed to identify a major RNAi pathway: the Piwi-associated RNA (piRNA) pathway, which has been replaced by a novel small-interfering RNA (siRNA)-like pathway. Co-opting of piRNA function by dust mite siRNAs is extensive, including establishment of TE control master loci that produce siRNAs. Interestingly, other members of the Acari have piRNAs indicating loss of this mechanism in dust mites is a recent event. Flux of RNAi-mediated control of TEs highlights the unusual arc of dust mite evolution.
Journal: PLoS genetics