EvSex Presentation - Justin Blumenstiel

Genome Wars: Sexual Reproduction and the Battle Within - Justin Blumenstiel

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
The University of Kansas
Sex and the struggle within: How sexual reproduction releases conflict within the genome


Sexual reproduction brings together genomes, shuffles them, and creates new individuals that are genetically unique. It is widely believed that sexual reproduction is important for evolution because it allows species to evolve new modes of protection against the onslaught of parasites. However, sexual reproduction also unleashes a form of conflict that is exploited by genetic parasites known as transposable elements. Transposable elements are selfish elements that only encode the means to copy themselves. As a results, like a computer virus filling up a hard drive, transposable elements can become dominant components of the genome. Strikingly, more than half of the human genome is comprised of "fossil" transposable elements that are no longer active. Transposable elements can also be quite harmful since they can insert into genes and cause disease. In response to this threat, species have evolved mechanisms of genome defense that act to fight against these selfish invaders. In this lecture, I will discuss the ongoing battle between hosts and the selfish elements within.