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Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2006 Nov;81(4):531-43. Epub 2006 Aug 8.

Repetitive DNA elements as mediators of genomic change in response to environmental cues.

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CSIRO Plant Industry, Queensland Bioscience Precinct, 306 Carmody Road, St Lucia, Queensland 4067, Australia.


There is no logical or theoretical barrier to the proposition that organismal and cell signaling could transduce environmental signals into specific, beneficial changes in primary structure of noncoding DNA via repetitive element movement or mutation. Repetitive DNA elements, including transposons and microsatellites, are known to influence the structure and expression of protein-coding genes, and to be responsive to environmental signals in some cases. These effects may create fodder for adaptive evolution, at rates exceeding those observed for point mutations. In many cases, the changes are no doubt random, and fitness is increased through simple natural selection. However, some transposons insert at specific sites, and certain regions of the genome exhibit selectively and beneficially high mutation rates in a range of organisms. In multicellular organisms, this could benefit individuals in situations with significant potential for clonal expansion: early life stages or regenerative tissues in animals, and most plant tissues. Transmission of the change to the next generation could occur in plants and, under some circumstances, in animals.

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