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Cytogenet Genome Res. 2005;110(1-4):402-6.

The recent evolution of human L1 retrotransposons.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Queens College, CUNY, Flushing, NY 11367-1597, USA. sboissin@qcl.qc.edu


L1 elements are the most successful retrotransposons in mammals and are responsible for at least 30% of human DNA. Far from being indolent genomic parasites, L1 elements have evolved and amplified rapidly during human evolution. Indeed during just the last 25 million years (MY) five distinct L1 families have emerged and generated tens of thousands of copies. The most recently evolved human specific L1 family is currently active and L1 copies have been accumulating in the human genome at about the same rate per generation as the currently active L1 families in Old World rats and mice. At times during the last 25 MY L1 activity constituted a significant enough genetic load to be subject to negative selection. During these same times, and in apparent response to the host, L1 underwent adaptive evolution. Understanding the molecular basis for these evolutionary changes should help illuminate one of the least understood but most important aspects of L1 biology, namely the extent and nature of the interaction between L1 and its host.

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