Cross species transfer of genes has driven evolution

DNA image

Far from just being the product of our parents, University of Adelaide scientists have shown that widespread transfer of genes between species has radically changed the genomes of today’s mammals, and been an important driver of evolution.

In the world’s largest study of so-called ‘jumping genes’, the researchers have traced two particular jumping genes across 759 species of plants, animals and fungi. These jumping genes are actually small pieces of DNA that can copy themselves throughout a genome and are known as transposable elements.

Our scientists have found that cross-species transfers, even between plants and animals, have occurred frequently throughout evolution.

Both of the transposable elements they traced – L1 and BovB – entered mammals as foreign DNA. This is the first time anyone has shown that the L1 element, important in humans, has jumped between species.

The project was led by Professor David Adelson, Director of the University of Adelaide’s Bioinformatics Hub.

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Jumping genes figure

A graphic representation of the BovB element which shows how it has appeared in species that are wide apart on the evolutionary tree – for example sea urchins and elephants, cows and snakes.

Tagged in Research, School of Biological Sciences, Biological Science, Evolutionary Biology