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ORF2 reverse transcription and insertion

M FIGURE 10-18 Exon shuffling by transposition. (a) Transposition of an exon flanked by homologous DNA transposons into an intron on a second gene. As we saw in Figure 10-10, step 1, transposase can recognize and cleave the DNA at the ends of the transposon inverted repeats. In gene 1, if the transposase cleaves at the left end of the transposon on the left and at the right end of the transposon on the right, it can transpose all the intervening DNA, including the exon from gene 1, to a new site in an intron of gene 2. The net result is an insertion of the exon from gene 1 into gene 2. (b) Integration of an exon into another gene via LINE transposition. Some LINEs have weak poly(A) signals. If such a LINE is in the 3'-most intron of gene 1, during transposition its transcription may continue beyond its own poly(A) signals and extend into the 3' exon, transcribing the cleavage and polyadenylation signals of gene 1 itself. This RNA can then be reverse-transcribed and integrated by the LINE ORF2 protein (Figure 10-16) into an intron on gene 2, introducing a new 3' exon (from gene 1) into gene 2.

In addition to causing changes in coding sequences in the genome, recombination between mobile elements and transposition of DNA adjacent to DNA transposons and retro-transposons likely played a significant role in the evolution of regulatory sequences that control gene expression. As noted earlier, eukaryotic genes have transcription-control regions, called enhancers, that can operate over distances of tens of thousands of base pairs. Transcription of many genes is controlled through the combined effects of several enhancer elements. Insertion of mobile elements near such transcription-control regions probably contributed to the evolution of new combinations of enhancer sequences. These in turn control which specific genes are expressed in particular cell types and the amount of the encoded protein produced in modern organisms, as we discuss in the next chapter.

These considerations suggest that the early view of mobile DNA elements as completely selfish molecular parasites misses the mark. Rather, they have likely contributed profoundly to the evolution of higher organisms by promoting

(1) the generation of gene families via gene duplication,

(2) the creation of new genes via shuffling of preexisting exons, and (3) formation of more complex regulatory regions that provide multifaceted control of gene expression.

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