Transposable elements (TEs) are DNA sequences that can move from one location in the genome to another. They are also known as “jumping genes,”

TEs can cause genetic variation and are found in the genomes of most organisms, from bacteria to plants and animals.

TEs are classified into two major categories:

Class I TEs, or Retrotransposons:

They move via an RNA intermediate.

Class II TEs, or DNA transposons:

These move by excision and reinsertion.

jumping genes, transposons, or transposable elements
Image: Transposon

When TEs move, they can disrupt functional genes or regulatory elements, and this can have significant effects on the phenotype of the organism.

For example, a transposon may insert into a coding region of a gene and disrupt its function, leading to disease or other disorders. Also, a transposable element may insert into a regulatory region of a gene and alter its expression ultimately leading to changes in morphology or physiology.

The transposons can also have positive effects on the host genome. For example, they may provide a source of new genes or regulatory elements that can enhance adaptation to changing environments.

Importance of Jumping Genes or Transposable Elements

Transposable elements (TEs) are important for several reasons:

  • Genetics and Evolution: Jumping genes play a key role in shaping the genome structure and evolution of organisms. By moving around the genome, TEs create genetic diversity, generate new mutations, and contribute to the evolution of new genes.
  • Gene regulation: Transposable elements can affect gene regulation by inserting into or near genes, and modulating their expression. They have been implicated in the evolution of new gene regulatory networks, as well as the emergence of new biological functions.
  • Diseases: Transposons can contribute to the development of genetic diseases. For example, some TEs can insert into genes and disrupt their function, leading to genetic disorders such as hemophilia.
  • As genetic tools in Biotechnology: The transposable elements have been used as genetic tools in biotechnology, such as in gene knockouts, gene tagging, and gene expression studies.
  • Study of Evolutionary history: Jumping genes can provide insights into the evolutionary history of species. For example, TEs have been used to study the phylogenetic relationships between species, as well as their divergence times.

While TEs can have both positive and negative effects on the host genome, they are generally considered to be a major driver of genome evolution, contributing to the diversity and complexity of life on Earth.

Understanding their biology and function can provide insights into the complexity of genomes, and have practical applications in biotechnology and medicine.