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Curr Biol. 2010 Sep 14;20(17):R746-53. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.06.056.

Evolution of transcription networks--lessons from yeasts.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California-San Francisco, CA, USA.


That regulatory evolution is important in generating phenotypic diversity was suggested soon after the discovery of gene regulation. In the past few decades, studies in animals have provided a number of examples in which phenotypic changes can be traced back to specific alterations in transcriptional regulation. Recent advances in DNA sequencing technology and functional genomics have stimulated a new wave of investigation in simple model organisms. In particular, several genome-wide comparative analyses of transcriptional circuits across different yeast species have been performed. These studies have revealed that transcription networks are remarkably plastic: large scale rewiring in which target genes move in and out of regulons through changes in cis-regulatory sequences appears to be a general phenomenon. Transcription factor substitution and the formation of new combinatorial interactions are also important contributors to the rewiring. In several cases, a transition through intermediates with redundant regulatory programs has been suggested as a mechanism through which rewiring can occur without a loss in fitness. Because the basic features of transcriptional regulation are deeply conserved, we speculate that large scale rewiring may underlie the evolution of complex phenotypes in multi-cellular organisms; if so, such rewiring may leave traceable changes in the genome from which the genetic basis of functional innovation can be detected.

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