Genomic Parasites

September 29th, 2011
in econ_news

by Sanjeev Kulkarni

fetus DNA

Econintersect:  Jumping genes or Transposons which invaded the mammalian genome 100 million years ago "dramatically changed the way mammals reproduce — transforming the uterus in the ancestors of humans and other mammals from the production of eggs to a nurturing home for developing young, a new Yale University study has found."   The title of the Yale Daily Bulletin article sounds rather sensational:  "Invasion of Genomic Parasites Triggered Modern Mammalian Pregnancy," rivaling the impact of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

Follow up:

Transposons are DNA elements that can transpose from one place to another in a gene much like "cut" and paste operation in text editor.These jumping genes are are known to cause evolutionary changes and have also been implicated in cancer.

According to the Yale Daily Bulletin, The Yale team found more than 1500 genes that were "expressed" due to the effect of the tranposons. "The findings published online Sept. 25 in the journal Nature Genetics describe in unprecedented detail the molecular changes that allowed mammals to carry their developing young within the safety of the womb rather than laying them in nests or carrying them around in pouches" as per the Yale Daily Bulletin.

There are adverse as well as propicious effects from jumping genes, including possible undesirable mutations and propensity for producing cancer and other diseases.  From News Medical:

Transposons, or "jumping genes," make up roughly half of the human genome. Geneticists previously estimated that they replicate and insert themselves into new locations roughly one in every 20 live births.

New results, published in the June 25, 2010 issue of Cell, suggest that every newborn is likely to have a new transposon somewhere in his or her genome.

"Now it looks like every person might have a new insertion somewhere," says senior author Scott Devine, PhD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Institute for Genome Sciences. "This is an under-appreciated mechanism for continuing mutation of the human genome."

The research was initiated at Emory University School of Medicine, where Devine was in the Department of Biochemistry. First author Rebecca Iskow, PhD (now a postdoctoral fellow at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston) was a graduate student at Emory. Two other papers on human transposons appear in the same issue of Cell.

The current work is follow-on to the pioneering research on genetic transposition Barbara McClintock, for which she received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983.  (Wikipedia)

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