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The evolutionary genetics of transposable element invasions

Project description

Profiling rogue DNA sequences that can jump within and between organisms

An organism's DNA is threatened every day by external elements and from within. Jumping genes, formally transposable elements (TEs), are DNA sequences that move from one location in the genome to another. While TEs are an important source of genetic diversity, they often have deleterious effects. The genome itself encodes mechanisms to inhibit most TE activity, but TEs can escape these mechanisms by invading new species. Fortunately, their new hosts rapidly evolve defence mechanisms. EU-funded TE_INVASION is untangling the complicated relationships TEs have with their original and adopted hosts. Insights from this project will have an important impact on our understanding of evolution and potential consequences of gene therapies.


Transposable elements play major roles in the genome evolution of eukaryotes, and cause harmful mutations, deleterious side effects, and disease. These costs drive their eukaryotic hosts to evolve counter-adaptations, which are so effective that TEs are thought to only survive long term by invading new naïve species. These transposable element invasions appear to occur via horizontal transfer, and can result in the rapid, selfish spread of the element through a species. Despite the evolutionary importance of the host-transposable element relationship, there are still major gaps in our knowledge of how they evolve and persist. Host resistance can evolve astonishingly rapidly, but the evolutionary mechanism by which this happens is unknown. Some horizontal transfer events result in successful invasions, but we have little idea of what factors favour success, or, except in rare cases, how the transfer events occur.

This proposal outlines a four-part research programme to address these gaps, examining both sides of the coevolutionary equation. Specifically, I will examine the rapid evolution of suppression from the host side, to understand the population genetics of this process. I will study invasions from the perspective of the transposable element, and ask what genetic factors contribute to their success. To accomplish these objectives, I will take advantage of a unique opportunity-- an ongoing invasion of a model transposable element in a close relative of the genetic model fly. Finally, I will examine the role of parasites as vectors of TEs ,to understand mechanisms of horizontal transfer between species.


Net EU contribution
€ 1 991 315,00
Brownlow hill 765 foundation building
L69 7ZX Liverpool
United Kingdom

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North West (England) Merseyside Liverpool
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (1)