Mammalian transposable elements and their impacts on genome evolution

Roy N. Platt, Michael W. Vandewege, David A. Ray

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Transposable elements (TEs) are genetic elements with the ability to mobilize and replicate themselves in a genome. Mammalian genomes are dominated by TEs, which can reach copy numbers in the hundreds of thousands. As a result, TEs have had significant impacts on mammalian evolution. Here we summarize the current understanding of TE content in mammal genomes and find that, with a few exceptions, most fall within a predictable range of observations. First, one third to one half of the genome is derived from TEs. Second, most mammalian genomes are dominated by LINE and SINE retrotransposons, more limited LTR retrotransposons, and minimal DNA transposon accumulation. Third, most mammal genome contains at least one family of actively accumulating retrotransposon. Finally, horizontal transfer of TEs among lineages is rare. TE exaptation events are being recognized with increasing frequency. Despite these beneficial aspects of TE content and activity, the majority of TE insertions are neutral or deleterious. To limit the deleterious effects of TE proliferation, the genome has evolved several defense mechanisms that act at the epigenetic, transcriptional, and post-transcriptional levels. The interaction between TEs and these defense mechanisms has led to an evolutionary arms race where TEs are suppressed, evolve to escape suppression, then are suppressed again as the defense mechanisms undergo compensatory change. The result is complex and constantly evolving interactions between TEs and host genomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-43
Number of pages19
JournalChromosome Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Adaptation
  • Disease
  • Exaptation
  • Horizontal transfer
  • Mobile elements
  • Retrotransposons
  • TE defense
  • Transposons


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