PerspectiveGenetics

New genes from borrowed parts

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Science  19 Feb 2021:
Vol. 371, Issue 6531, pp. 779-780
DOI: 10.1126/science.abf8493

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Summary

The vast phenotypic diversity of life is in part a consequence of a continual process of genetic innovation. New genes, with distinct structures and capabilities, emerge regularly throughout evolutionary history. Making use of genomics technologies, researchers are beginning to form an understanding of the details of the processes by which new genes arise. On page 797 of this issue, Cosby et al. (1) provide clarity for one such process. Transposons are parasitic genomic elements that replicate by inserting copies of themselves in the host genome. Cosby et al. report how vertebrate genes have captured DNA transposon domains, generating new genes that encode new fusion proteins with distinct domain architectures. Fusion of transposon domains with host genes appears to be frequent, with 94 fusion events identified over tetrapod evolution. Transposon domain capture may be a common source of new genes and molecular innovation across the tree of life.

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