Examination of the original paper reveals that it does NOT use the phrase “genomic parasites” or anything like it. Thus it is not appropriate to pick-up that term in any reports on this paper.
No, Edward, but pop science writers sometimes just invent stuff. It’ll get worse.
In brief, the paper reports that a certain class of “hAT-Charlie family DNA transposons” called “MER20s” are vital in the operation of placental pregnancy, due to their effect on endometrial stromal cells (ESCs), and reports that due to various calculations of probabilities, these MER20s must have been “inserted” into “the genome of ancestral placental mammals.” The report uses the word “inserted” several times — but the report makes no statement at all characterizing any mechanism or agent for insertion.
The conclusion will be of interest (I omit the footnote cite references):
“There is broad consensus that many of the changes underlying the evolution of morphology occur by the stepwise modification of individual pre-existing cis-regulatory element modules. However, it is questionable whether the origin of complex novelties — such as the origin of new cell types, which involves the recruitment of hundreds of genes — can be achieved by these small-scale changes. Our findings indicate that the gene regulatory network of ESCs [endometrial stromal cells] was rewired in placental mammals during the evolution of pregnancy, a reorganization partly mediated by the transposable element MER20. … These findings strongly support the existence of transposon-mediated gene regulatory innovation at the network level …. [T]ransposable elements are potent agents of gene regulatory network evolution and add to an increasing body of evidence indicating that the evolution of novel characters involves genetic mechanisms that are distinct from those involved in the modification of existing characters.”
The citations are of interest as well, in that, judging from the titles, they conclude basically the same thing. The papers are in citation footnotes 7, 13, 14, 23, 29 to 35 (11 papers).
If someone read this report and concluded, “Hmmm, something like intelligence must have accomplished the insertions into the DNA,” there is not one word in this report that could be quoted as asserting to the contrary that the mechanism must have been unintelligent & “natural only.” It is the journalists, by applying the “genetic parasites” label, who make that claim.
It’s odd, yes, because pop science writers are usually stronger Darwin fans than anyone. Did they sense that, in this case, something doesn’t quite add up?
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