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Curr Opin Genet Dev. 2018 Apr;49:15-24. doi: 10.1016/j.gde.2018.02.007. Epub 2018 Mar 2.

Horizontal acquisition of transposable elements and viral sequences: patterns and consequences.

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Laboratoire Evolution, Génomes, Comportement, Ecologie, CNRS Université Paris-Sud UMR 9191, IRD UMR 247, Avenue de la Terrasse, Bâtiment 13, Boite Postale 1, 91198 Gif sur Yvette, France. Electronic address:
Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA. Electronic address:


It is becoming clear that most eukaryotic transposable elements (TEs) owe their evolutionary success in part to horizontal transfer events, which enable them to invade new species. Recent large-scale studies are beginning to unravel the mechanisms and ecological factors underlying this mode of transmission. Viruses are increasingly recognized as vectors in the process but also as a direct source of genetic material horizontally acquired by eukaryotic organisms. Because TEs and endogenous viruses are major catalysts of variation and innovation in genomes, we argue that horizontal inheritance has had a more profound impact in eukaryotic evolution than is commonly appreciated. To support this proposal, we compile a list of examples, including some previously unrecognized, whereby new host functions and phenotypes can be directly attributed to horizontally acquired TE or viral sequences. We predict that the number of examples will rapidly grow in the future as the prevalence of horizontal transfer in the life cycle of TEs becomes even more apparent, firmly establishing this form of non-Mendelian inheritance as a consequential facet of eukaryotic evolution.

[Available on 2019-04-01]

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