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Publication : Combinatorial epigenetics, "junk DNA", and the evolution of complex organisms.

First Author  Zuckerkandl Emile Year  2007
Journal  Gene Volume  390
Pages  232-42 PubMed ID  17223284
Abstract Text  At certain evolutionary junctures, two or more mutations participating in the build-up of a new complex function may be required to become available simultaneously in the same individuals. How could this happen in higher organisms whose populations are small compared to those of microbes, and in which chances of combined nearly simultaneous highly specific favorable mutations are correspondingly low? The question can in principle be answered for regulatory evolution, one of the basic processes of evolutionary change. A combined resetting of transcription rates in several genes could occur in the same individual. It is proposed that, in eukaryotes, changes in epigenetic trends and epigenetically transforming encounters between alternative chromatin structures could arise frequently enough so as to render probable particular conjunctions of changed transcription rates. Such conjunctions could involve mutational changes with low specificity requirements in gene-associated regions of non-protein-coding sequences. The effects of such mutations, notably when they determine the use of histone variants and covalent modifications of histones, can be among those that migrate along chromatin. Changes in chromatin structure are often cellularly inheritable over at least a limited number of generations of cells, and of individuals when the germ line is involved. SINEs and LINEs, which have been considered "junk DNA", are among the repeat sequences that would appear liable to have teleregulatory effects on the function of a nearby promoter, through changes in their numbers and distribution. There may also be present preexisting unstably inheritable epigenetic trends leading to cellular variegation, trends endemic in a cell population based on DNA sequences previously established in the neighborhood. Either way, epigenetically conditioned teleregulatory trends may display only limited penetrance. The imposition at a distance of new chromatin structures with regulatory impact can occur in cis as well as in trans, and is examined as intrachromosomally spreading teleregulation and interchromosomal "gene kissing". The chances for two or more particular epigenetically determined regulatory trends to occur together in a cell are increased thanks to the proposed low specificity requirements for most of the pertinent sequence changes in intergenic and intronic DNA or in the distribution of middle repetitive sequences that have teleregulatory impact. Inheritable epigenetic changes ("epimutations") with effects at a distance would then perdure over the number of generations required for "assimilation"of the several regulatory novelties through the occurrence and selection, gene by gene... Doi  10.1016/j.gene.2006.12.001
Issue  1-2 Month  Apr

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