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Annu Rev Genet. 2012;46:21-42. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genet-110711-155621. Epub 2012 Aug 16.

Transposable elements: an abundant and natural source of regulatory sequences for host genes.

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Terry Fox Laboratory, British Columbia Cancer Agency, Vancouver, Canada.


The fact that transposable elements (TEs) can influence host gene expression was first recognized more than 50 years ago. However, since that time, TEs have been widely regarded as harmful genetic parasites-selfish elements that are rarely co-opted by the genome to serve a beneficial role. Here, we survey recent findings that relate to TE impact on host genes and remind the reader that TEs, in contrast to other noncoding parts of the genome, are uniquely suited to gene regulatory functions. We review recent studies that demonstrate the role of TEs in establishing and rewiring gene regulatory networks and discuss the overall ubiquity of exaptation. We suggest that although individuals within a population can be harmed by the deleterious effects of new TE insertions, the presence of TE sequences in a genome is of overall benefit to the population.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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