An unexpected layer of complexity in the genomes of humans and other vertebrates lies in the abundance of genes that do not appear to encode proteins but produce a variety of non-coding RNAs. In particular, the human genome is currently predicted to contain 5,000–10,000 independent gene units generating long (>200 nucleotides) noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs). While there is growing evidence that a large fraction of these lncRNAs have cellular functions, notably to regulate protein-coding gene expression, almost nothing is known on the processes underlying the evolutionary origins and diversification of lncRNA genes.
Here a team led by researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine show that transposable elements, through their capacity to move and spread in genomes in a lineage-specific fashion, as well as their ability to introduce regulatory sequences upon chromosomal insertion, represent a major force shaping the lncRNA repertoire of humans, mice, and zebrafish. Not only do TEs make up a substantial fraction of mature lncRNA transcripts, they are also enriched in the vicinity of lncRNA genes, where they frequently contribute to their transcriptional regulation. Through specific examples we provide evidence that some TE sequences embedded in lncRNAs are critical for the biogenesis of lncRNAs and likely important for their function.
- Kapusta A, Kronenberg Z, Lynch VJ, Zhuo X, Ramsay L, et al. (2013) Transposable Elements Are Major Contributors to the Origin, Diversification, and Regulation of Vertebrate Long Noncoding RNAs. PLoS Genet 9(4), e1003470. [article]