Mobile DNA: where is it now and where is it going?

Posted by Biome on 5th June 2014 - 1 Comment

Transposable elements (TEs) have the power to shape entire genomes through facilitating genetic  mutations, sequence duplications and DNA rearrangements. This has implications not only for genome evolution but also for our understanding of disease pathology, which is increasingly associated with TE-mediated mutations. These themes formed the basis of the 2014 Mobile Genetic Elements and Genome Evolution Keystone Symposium organised by the Editors-in-Chief of Mobile DNA, Nancy Craig from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, USA, Henry Levin from the National Institutes of Health, USA, and Cedric Feschotte from the University of Utah, USA.

Keystone SymposiaTalking to a panel of symposium speakers, each with expertise in different areas of mobile DNA research, Journal Development Editor for Mobile DNA Sam Rose (@Rosenovich) found out what the most exciting recent advances are, and where the field is going. Their collective insights are published in a Mobile DNA Opinion article.


“Now it’s come full circle, the very [transposable] elements that we can follow are becoming useful in generating the next generation of data”
Marlene Belfort, University at Albany


Marlene Belfort, Professor at the University at Albany, USA, noted the wide ranging impact mobile DNA research has had, from TEs as landmarks in genome sequencing, to advances in our understanding of LINEs in disease. When it comes to disease and host defences, Harmit Malik, a member at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, USA, revealed what he thinks are the big three questions in this growing area of investigation. New research continues to provide clues to the function of TEs, not only in disease but also during germ cell development. More recent findings have even suggested transposition in somatic cells, although the underlying function is yet to be conclusively elucidated, as Jef Boeke, Director of the NYU Langone Medical Center, USA, remarked:

“I’m fundamentally a selfish DNA guy, and the idea that these elements would be jumping around to provide a function is still very difficult to swallow.”
Jef Boeke, NYU Langone Medical Center


When it comes to the future of mobile DNA research, opinions on what’s next revealed the breadth of disciplines to be explored, with insights to be gained from synthetic biology as explained by Boeke, and the potential of RNA therapeutics discussed by Lynne Maquat, Professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center, USA. Further advances in this field are unsurprisingly likely to be coupled with technological innovation, as pointed out by Keith Slotkin, Assistant Professor at Ohio State University, USA:

“Over the next five or ten years there’s going to be an even larger push for even newer technology in this field such as long-read deep sequencing, which will directly benefit research on repetitive elements such as transposable elements.“
Keith Slotkin, Ohio State University


More insights on mobile DNA research can be found in this Opinion article, including what Todd Macfarlen, investigator at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, USA, had to say about human endogenous retrovirus elements, and what Luciano Marraffini, Assistant Professor at the Rockefeller University, USA, thinks of CRISPR.


Further insights from Jef Boeke on mobile DNA research and his interest in retrotransposons can be found in the complete Biome Q&A here.



Mobile DNA: an evolving field

Belfort M, Marraffini L, Macfarlan T, Boeke J, Slotkin K, Malik H and Maquat L
Mobile DNA 2014, 5:16

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