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A so-called "jumping gene" that researchers long considered either genetic junk or a pernicious parasite is actually a critical regulator of the first stages of embryonic development, according to a new study in mice led by UC San Francisco scientists and published June 21, 2018 in Cell.
Only about 1 percent of the human genome encodes proteins, and researchers have long debated what the other 99 percent is good for. Many of these non-protein coding regions are known to contain important regulatory elements that orchestrate gene activity, but others are thought to be evolutionary garbage that is just too much trouble for the genome to clean up.
Example - Half - DNA - Elements - Transposons
For example, fully half of our DNA is made up of "transposable elements," or "transposons," virus-like genetic material that has the special ability of duplicating and reinserting itself in different locations in the genome, which has led researchers to dub them genetic parasites. Over the course of evolution, some transposons have left hundreds or thousands of copies of themselves scattered across the genome. While most of these stowaways are thought to be inert and inactive, others create havoc by altering or disrupting cells' normal genetic programming and have been associated with diseases such as certain forms of cancer.
Now UCSF scientists have revealed that, far from being a freeloader or parasite, the most common transposon, called LINE1, which accounts for fully 24 percent of the human genome, is actually necessary for embryos to develop past the two-cell stage.
'Playing with Fire'
Study senior author Miguel Ramalho-Santos, Ph.D., an associate professor of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive sciences and a member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF, has been interested in transposons since he first set up his lab as an independent UCSF Fellow in 2003.
He and others had observed that...
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