Repetitive DNAs are ubiquitous in eukaryotic genomes and, in many species, comprise the bulk of the genome. Repeats include transposable elements that can self-mobilize and disperse around the genome and tandemly-repeated satellite DNAs that increase in copy number due to replication slippage and unequal crossing over. Despite their abundance, repetitive DNAs are often ignored in genomic studies due to technical challenges in identifying, assembling, and quantifying them. New technologies and methods are now allowing unprecedented power to analyze repetitive DNAs across diverse taxa. Repetitive DNAs are of particular interest because they can represent distinct modes of genome evolution. Some repetitive DNAs form essential genome structures, such as telomeres and centromeres, that are required for proper chromosome maintenance and segregation, while others form piRNA clusters that regulate transposable elements; thus, these elements are expected to evolve under purifying selection. In contrast, other repeats evolve selfishly and cause genetic conflicts with their host species that drive adaptive evolution of host defense systems. However, the majority of repeats likely accumulate in eukaryotes in the absence of selection due to mechanisms of transposition and unequal crossing over. However, even these “neutral” repeats may indirectly influence genome evolution as they reach high abundance. In this Special Issue, the contributing authors explore these questions from a range of perspectives.
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