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Gene. 2009 Dec 15;448(2):124-33. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2009.06.008. Epub 2009 Jun 23.

The adaptive role of transposable elements in the Drosophila genome.

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Department of Biology, 371 Serra St. Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-3020, USA.


Transposable elements (TEs) are short DNA sequences with the capacity to move between different sites in the genome. This ability provides them with the capacity to mutate the genome in many different ways, from subtle regulatory mutations to gross genomic rearrangements. The potential adaptive significance of TEs was recognized by those involved in their initial discovery although it was hotly debated afterwards. For more than two decades, TEs were considered to be intragenomic parasites leading to almost exclusively detrimental effects to the host genome. The sequencing of the Drosophila melanogaster genome provided an unprecedented opportunity to study TEs and led to the identification of the first TE-induced adaptations in this species. These studies were followed by a systematic genome-wide search for adaptive insertions that allowed for the first time to infer that TEs contribute substantially to adaptive evolution. This study also revealed that there are at least twice as many TE-induced adaptations that remain to be identified. To gain a better understanding of the adaptive role of TEs in the genome we clearly need to (i) identify as many adaptive TEs as possible in a range of Drosophila species as well as (ii) carry out in-depth investigations of the effects of adaptive TEs on as many phenotypes as possible.

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