Selfish genetic elements, like transposable elements or viruses, are a threat to genomic stability. A variety of processes, including small RNA-based RNA interference (RNAi)-like pathways, has evolved to counteract these elements. Amongst these, endogenous small interfering RNA and Piwi-interacting RNA (piRNA) pathways were implicated in silencing selfish genetic elements in a variety of organisms. Nematodes have several incredibly specialized, rapidly evolving endogenous RNAi-like pathways serving such purposes. Here, we review recent research regarding the RNAi-like pathways of Caenorhabditis elegans
as well as those of other nematodes, to provide an evolutionary perspective. We argue that multiple nematode RNAi-like pathways share piRNA-like properties and together form a broad nematode toolkit that allows for silencing of foreign genetic elements.
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