Animal mitogenomes are generally thought of as being economic and optimized for rapid replication and transcription. We use long-read sequencing technology to assemble the remarkable mitogenomes of four species of seed beetles. These are the largest circular mitogenomes ever assembled in insects, ranging from 24,496 to 26,613?bp in total length, and are exceptional in that some 40% consists of non-coding DNA. The size expansion is due to two very long intergenic spacers (LIGSs), rich in tandem repeats. The two LIGSs are present in all species but vary greatly in length (114-10,408?bp), show very low sequence similarity, divergent tandem repeat motifs, a very high AT content and concerted length evolution. The LIGSs have been retained for at least some 45 my but must have undergone repeated reductions and expansions, despite strong purifying selection on protein coding mtDNA genes. The LIGSs are located in two intergenic sites where a few recent studies of insects have also reported shorter LIGSs (>200?bp). These sites may represent spaces that tolerate neutral repeat array expansions or, alternatively, the LIGSs may function to allow a more economic translational machinery. Mitochondrial respiration in adult seed beetles is based almost exclusively on fatty acids, which reduces the need for building complex I of the oxidative phosphorylation pathway (NADH dehydrogenase). One possibility is thus that the LIGSs may allow depressed transcription of NAD genes. RNA sequencing showed that LIGSs are partly transcribed and transcriptional profiling suggested that all seven mtDNA NAD genes indeed show low levels of transcription and co-regulation of transcription across sexes and tissues.© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.
Journal: Genome biology and evolution