PerspectiveGenetics

A copy-and-paste gene regulatory network

Science  04 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6277, pp. 1029-1030
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2977

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Summary

Changes in gene regulatory networks (GRNs) underlie many phenotypic differences between species. However, the mechanisms of GRN evolution are still being debated (15). Explaining how GRNs originate, diversify, and maintain their identities despite regulatory element turnover is essential for developing mechanistic explanations for the origin, diversification, and conservation of homologous characters between species. Among the major outstanding questions in GRN evolution is whether individual cis-regulatory elements arise de novo through the gradual accumulation of mutations that increase the regulatory potential of existing DNA or whether cis-regulatory elements originate more rapidly through concerted processes. On page 1083 of this issue, Chuong et al. provide evidence that concerted processes, involving endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), which are remarkably abundant in mammalian genomes, have contributed to the evolution of the regulatory systems that control the mammalian immune system (6).