Altruistic functions for selfish DNA.

Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, Roslin, Scotland, UK.
Cell cycle (Georgetown, Tex.) (Impact Factor: 5.24). 10/2009; 8(18):2895-900. DOI: 10.4161/cc.8.18.9536
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Mammalian genomes are comprised of 30-50% transposed elements (TEs). The vast majority of these TEs are truncated and mutated fragments of retrotransposons that are no longer capable of transposition. Although initially regarded as important factors in the evolution of gene regulatory networks, TEs are now commonly perceived as neutrally evolving and non-functional genomic elements. In a major development, recent works have strongly contradicted this "selfish DNA" or "junk DNA" dogma by demonstrating that TEs use a host of novel promoters to generate RNA on a massive scale across most eukaryotic cells. This transcription frequently functions to control the expression of protein-coding genes via alternative promoters, cis regulatory non protein-coding RNAs and the formation of double stranded short RNAs. If considered in sum, these findings challenge the designation of TEs as selfish and neutrally evolving genomic elements. Here, we will expand upon these themes and discuss challenges in establishing novel TE functions in vivo.

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