Ellen Pritham

Assistant Professor of Human Genetics

Ellen Pritham

B.S. Boston University

Ph.D. University of Massachusetts, Boston




Ellen Pritham's Lab Page

Ellen Pritham's PubMed Literature Search


Our current research interests focus on the impact of mobile DNA, (like transposable elements) on the evolution of genome architecture.  Transposable elements are parasitic genetic units capable of movement in the genome.  This movement can alter gene expression and genome organization. We are particularly interested in how life history traits, such as parasitism, promote transposable element proliferation and in turn influences adaptation.  For example, we study how mobile DNA facilitates genome evolution in disease causing pathogenic protozoans (like Trichomonas vaginalis, Phytophthora infestans, Entamoeba sp. and Toxoplasma gondii) when a new niche or environment is colonized or when host switching occurs. We hypothesize that the combination of the effects of non-adaptive processes (like drift) and the exposure to new flora can facilitate both the acquisition via horizontal transfer and the proliferation of transposable elements.  The proliferation of transposable elements can facilitate rapid change because they are potent mutagens and provide the platform for recombination.  Along these lines we are investigating the role of viruses in the horizontal transfer of transposable elements between eukaryotes. 

Some of our laboratory objectives include developing an understanding of:

1. The identification and distribution of novel forms of repetitive DNA.

2. The role of mobile DNA in genome evolution.

3. The influence of nonadaptive processes on mobile DNA proliferation.

4. The role of viruses in the horizontal transfer of transposableelements between eukaryotes.


  1. Hoy MA, et al (2016) Genome Sequencing of the Phytoseiid Predatory Mite Metaseiulus occidentalis Reveals Completely Atomized Hox Genes and Superdynamic Intron Evolution. Genome Biol Evol 8(6):1762-75
  2. Grabundzija I, Messing SA, Thomas J, Cosby RL, Bilic I, Miskey C, Gogol-Döring A, Kapitonov V, Diem T, Dalda A, Jurka J, Pritham EJ, Dyda F, Izsvák Z, Ivics Z (2016) A Helitron transposon reconstructed from bats reveals a novel mechanism of genome shuffling in eukaryotes. Nat Commun 7:10716
  3. Thomas J, Pritham EJ (2015) Helitrons, the Eukaryotic Rolling-circle Transposable Elements. Review. Microbiol Spectr 3(4)
  4. Thomas J, Vadnagara K, Pritham EJ (2014) DINE-1, the highest copy number repeats in Drosophila melanogaster are non-autonomous endonuclease-encoding rolling-circle transposable elements (Helentrons). Mobile DNA 5:18
  5. Curtis BA, et al (2012) Algal genomes reveal evolutionary mosaicism and the fate of nucleomorphs. Nature 492(7427):59-65
  6. Thomas J, Sorourian M, Ray D, Baker RJ, Pritham EJ (2011) The limited distribution of Helitrons to vesper bats supports horizontal transfer. Gene 474(1-2):52-8
  7. Colbourne JK, et al (2011) The ecoresponsive genome of Daphnia pulex. Science 331(6017):555-61
  8. Arensburger P, et al (2010) Sequencing of Culex quinquefasciatus establishes a platform for mosquito comparative genomics. Science 330(6000):86-88
  9. Thomas J, Schaack S, Pritham EJ (2010) Pervasive horizontal transfer of rolling-circle transposons among animals. Genome Biology and Evolution 185(4): 1507-17
  10. Marquez CP, Pritham EJ (2010) Phantom, a New Subclass of Mutator DNA Transposons Found in Insect Viruses and Widely Distributed in Animals. Genetics 
  11. Schaack S, Choi E, Lynch M, Pritham EJ (2010) DNA transposons and the role of recombination in mutation accumulation in Daphnia pulex. Genome Biol 11(4)
  12. Schaack S, Pritham EJ, Wolf A & Lynch M (2010) DNA transposon dynamics in populations of Daphnia pulex with and without sex. Proc Biol Sci 
  13. The International Brachypodium Initiative (2010) Genome sequencing and analysis of the model grass Brachypodium distachyon. Nature 463:763-768
  14. Feschotte C, Pritham EJ (2009) A cornucopia of Helitrons shapes the maize genome. PNAS 106 (47):19747–19748
  15. Pritham, EJ (2009) Transposable elements and factors influencing their success in eukaryotes. J Hered 100(5):648-55
  16. Bustos O, Naik S, Ayers G, Casola C, Perez-Lamigueiro MA, Chippindale PT, Pritham EJ, de la Casa-Esperón E (2009) Evolution of the Schlafen genes, a gene family associated with embryonic lethality, meiotic drive, immune processes and orthopoxvirus virulence. Gene 447(1):1-11
  17. Ray DA, Feschotte C, Pagan HJ, Smith JD, Pritham EJ, Arensburger P, Atkinson PW, Craig NL (2008) Multiple waves of recent DNA transposon activity in the bat, Myotis lucifugus. Genome Res (5):717-28
  18. Feschotte C, Pritham EJ (2007) DNA Transposons and the Evolution of Eukaryotic Genomes. Annual Review of Genetics Vol. 41 
  19. Pritham EJ, C Feschotte (2007) Massive amplification of rolling-circle transposons in the lineage of the bat Myotis lucifugus: PNAS 104(6):1895–1900
  20. Feschotte C, Pritham EJ (2007) Computational Analysis and Paleogenomics of Interspersed Repeats in Eukaryotes. Computational Genomics: Current Methods Ed: N. Stojanovic. Horizon Scientific Press Pp. 31-53
  21. Pritham EJ, Putliwala T, Feschotte C (2007) Mavericks, a novel class of giant transposable elements widespread in eukaryotes and related to DNA viruses. Gene 390(1-2):3-17
  22. Holligan D, Zhang X, Jiang N, Pritham EJ & Wessler SR (2006) The transposable element landscape of the model legume Lotus japonicas. Genetics 174(4): 2215-28
  23. Feschotte C, Pritham EJ (2005) Non-mammalian c-integrases are encoded by giant transposable elements. Trends in Genetics 21:551-552
  24. Pritham EJ, Feschotte C, Wessler SR (2005) Unexpected diversity and differential success of DNA transposons in four species of Entamoeba protozoans. Molecular Biology and Evolution 22:1751-1763

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