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Genes 2012, 3(3), 492-504; doi:10.3390/genes3030492

A Model of Evolution of Development Based on Germline Penetration of New “No-Junk” DNA

1,2,*  and 2,3,4,*
1 Faculty of Electronics, Telecommunications and Informatics, Technical University of Gdansk, Gabriela Narutowicza 11/12, PL80233, Gdansk, Poland 2 Evolving Systems Laboratory, Faculty of Biology, Adam Mickiewicz University, Umultowska 89, PL61614 Poznan, Poland 3 Systems Modelling Laboratory, Institute of Oceanology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Powstanców Warszawy 55, PL81712, Sopot, Poland 4 Institute of Neuroinformatics, University & ETH Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, CH8057 Zurich, Switzerland
* Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 1 June 2012 / Revised: 18 July 2012 / Accepted: 24 July 2012 / Published: 2 August 2012
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Junk DNA' is not Junk)
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There is a mounting body of evidence that somatic transposition may be involved in normal development of multicellular organisms and in pathology, especially cancer. Epigenetic Tracking (ET) is an abstract model of multicellular development, able to generate complex 3-dimensional structures. Its aim is not to model the development of a particular organism nor to merely summarise mainstream knowledge on genetic regulation of development. Rather, the goal of ET is to provide a theoretical framework to test new postulated genetic mechanisms, not fully established yet in mainstream biology. The first proposal is that development is orchestrated through a subset of cells which we call driver cells. In these cells, the cellular state determines a specific pattern of gene activation which leads to the occurrence of developmental events. The second proposal is that evolution of development is affected by somatic transposition events. We postulate that when the genome of a driver cell does not specify what developmental event should be undertaken when the cell is in a particular cellular state, somatic transposition events can reshape the genome, build new regulatory regions, and lead to a new pattern of gene activation in the cell. Our third hypothesis, not supported yet by direct evidence, but consistent with some experimental observations, is that these new “no-junk” sequences—regulatory regions created by transposable elements at new positions in the genome—can exit the cell and enter the germline, to be incorporated in the genome of the progeny. We call this mechanism germline penetration. This process allows heritable incorporation of novel developmental events in the developmental trajectory. In this paper we will present the model and link these three postulated mechanisms to biological observations.
Keywords: transposable elements; embryonic development; evo-devo transposable elements; embryonic development; evo-devo
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Fontana, A.; Wróbel, B. A Model of Evolution of Development Based on Germline Penetration of New “No-Junk” DNA. Genes 2012, 3, 492-504.

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