Genes & Genetic Systems
Online ISSN : 1880-5779
Print ISSN : 1341-7568
ISSN-L : 1341-7568
Mini reviews
Transposable elements as genetic accelerators of evolution: contribution to genome size, gene regulatory network rewiring and morphological innovation
Hidenori Nishihara
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2019 Volume 94 Issue 6 Pages 269-281


In the current era, as a growing number of genome sequence assemblies have been reported in animals, an in-depth analysis of transposable elements (TEs) is one of the most fundamental and essential studies for evolutionary genomics. Although TEs have, in general, been regarded as non-functional junk/selfish DNA, parasitic elements or harmful mutagens, studies have revealed that TEs have had a substantial and sometimes beneficial impact on host genomes in several ways. First, TEs are themselves diverse and thus provide lineage-specific characteristics to the genomes. Second, because TEs constitute a substantial fraction of animal genomes, they are a major contributing factor to evolutionary changes in genome size and composition. Third, host organisms have co-opted many repetitive sequences as genes, cis-regulatory elements and chromatin domain boundaries, which alter gene regulatory networks and in addition are partly involved in morphological evolution, as has been well documented in mammals. Here, I review the impact of TEs on various aspects of the genome, such as genome size and diversity in animals, as well as the evolution of gene networks and genome architecture in mammals. Given that a number of TE families probably remain to be discovered in many non-model organisms, unknown TEs may have contributed to gene networks in a much wider variety of animals than considered previously.

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© 2019 by The Genetics Society of Japan
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