The Evolutionary Impact of Mobile Gene Content
A transposable element (TE), sometimes called a jumping gene, is a DNA sequence that can change its position within a genome, making TEs important drivers of genetic variation. TE activity accounts for most of the DNA unique to each mammal species, and, making up more than half of the human genome, it’s responsible for as much as 30 percent of structural genomic variation in humans. In TEs’ complex roles, things can also go awry. Their transposition and rearrangement have been directly implicated in causing more than a hundred genetic diseases. Despite the importance of TEs and their role in disease, it’s still not understood how this enormous source of genetic variation impacts the evolution and physiology of species.
This Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) supports multiple projects, led by Cedric Feschotte, Molecular Biology and Genetics, and designed to yield transformative insights into the biological significance of TEs in evolution and disease. His team is testing the central and transformative hypothesis that regulatory and coding activities ancestrally encoded by TEs have been co-opted repeatedly during vertebrate evolution to promote the emergence of new cellular functions. TEs have therefore played a key role in diversifying the regulatory and coding repertoires of mammalian genomes and fostered the evolution of physiological and developmental novelties.
Feschotte’s lab is deploying innovative computational and experimental approaches to test the hypothesis. From multiple projects and approaches, the outcomes are anticipated to shift the perception of TEs from inert molecular fossils to active contributors to the evolutionary plasticity of vertebrate genomes. In addition, the studies are bound to reveal crucial insights into the role of mobile genetic elements in promoting disease states. NIH Award Number: 1R35GM122550-01