Mobile DNA as catalyst of genome evolution

27 October 2017

Cédric Feschotte
Department of Molecular Biology & Genetics
Cornell University


Most eukaryotic genomes are replete with sequences derived from selfish genetic elements, such as transposable elements and endogenous viruses. In this talk, I will present a snapshot of the myriad ways mobile elements have influenced, for better or worse, the biology of their hosts. I will argue that the conflict between selfish genetic elements and their host cells has led to the invention and diversification of molecular arsenals, which in turn facilitate the co-option of these elements for cellular function. I will summarize a body of evidence supporting this model and showing that prefabricated regulatory and coding activities carried by mobile elements have been repeatedly recycled throughout mammalian evolution to fuel the emergence of novel developmental and physiological functions. Specifically I will present recent evidence obtained in our laboratory that endogenous retroviruses have been coopted during mammalian evolution to rewire a transcriptional network orchestrating the interferon response, a crucial arm of innate immunity. These data also shed new light on the mechanisms by which the dysregulation of mobile elements may promote disease states, such as autoimmunity and tumorigenesis.

current theory lunch schedule