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Cytogenet Genome Res. 2005;110(1-4):25-34.

What transposable elements tell us about genome organization and evolution: the case of Drosophila.

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  • 1Laboratoire de Biométrie et Biologie Evolutive, UMR CNRS 5558, Université Lyon 1, Villeurbanne, France. biemont@bioserv.univ-lyon1.fr


Transposable elements (TEs) have been identified in every organism in which they have been looked for. The sequencing of large genomes, such as the human genome and those of Drosophila, Arabidopsis, Caenorhabditis, has also shown that they are a major constituent of these genomes, accounting for 15% of the genome of Drosophila, 45% of the human genome, and more than 70% in some plants and amphibians. Compared with the 1% of genomic DNA dedicated to protein-coding sequences in the human genome, this has prompted various researchers to suggest that the TEs and the other repetitive sequences that constitute the so-called "noncoding DNA", are where the most stimulating discoveries will be made in the future (Bromham, 2002). We are therefore getting further and further from the original idea that this DNA was simply "junk DNA", that owed its presence in the genome entirely to its capacity for selfish transposition. Our understanding of the structures of TEs, their distribution along the genomes, their sequence and insertion polymorphisms within genomes, and within and between populations and species, their impact on genes and on the regulatory mechanisms of genetic expression, their effects on exon shuffling and other phenomena that reshape the genome, and their impact on genome size has increased dramatically in recent years. This leads to a more general picture of the impact of TEs on genomes, though many copies are still mainly selfish or junk DNA. In this review we focus mainly on discoveries made in Drosophila, but we also use information about other genomes when this helps to elucidate the general processes involved in the organization, plasticity, and evolution of genomes.

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