How repeated retroelements format genome functionvon Sternberg R. · Shapiro J.A.
aNational Center for Biotechnology Information, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD and Department of Systematic Biology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; bDepartment of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL (USA)
Genomes operate as sophisticated information storage systems. Generic repeated signals in the DNA format expression of coding sequence files and organize additional functions essential for genome replication and accurate transmission to progeny cells. Retroelements comprise a major fraction of many genomes and contain a surprising diversity of functional signals. In this article, we summarize some features of the taxonomic distribution of retroelements, especially mammalian SINEs, tabulate functional roles documented for different classes of retroelements, and discuss their potential roles as genome organizers. In particular, the fact that certain retroelements serve as boundaries for heterochromatin domains and provide a significant fraction of scaffolding/matrix attachment regions (S/MARs) suggests that the reversed transcribed component of the genome plays a major architectonic role in higher order physical structuring. Employing an information science model, the “functionalist” perspective on repetitive DNA leads to new ways of thinking about the systemic organization of cellular genomes and provides several novel possibilities involving retroelements in evolutionarily significant genome reorganization.