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It is becoming clear that most eukaryotic transposable elements (TEs) owe their evolutionary
success in part to horizontal transfer events, which enable them to invade new species.
Recent large-scale studies are beginning to unravel the mechanisms and ecological factors
underlying this mode of transmission. Viruses are increasingly recognized as vectors
in the process but also as a direct source of genetic material horizontally acquired
by eukaryotic organisms. Because TEs and endogenous viruses are major catalysts of
variation and innovation in genomes, we argue that horizontal inheritance has had a
more profound impact in eukaryotic evolution than is commonly appreciated.
To support this proposal, we compile a list of examples, including some
previously unrecognized, whereby new host functions and phenotypes can be directly
attributed to horizontally acquired TE or viral sequences.
We predict that the number of examples will rapidly grow in the future as the
prevalence of horizontal transfer in the life cycle of TEs becomes even more apparent,
firmly establishing this form of non-Mendelian inheritance as a consequential facet
of eukaryotic evolution.
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Horizontal acquisition of transposable elements and viral sequences: patterns and
Gilbert C, Feschotte C.
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