From “Jumping Gene’s Preferred Targets May Influence Genome Evolution” (ScienceDaily, Sep. 6, 2011) , we learn:
The scientists used the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, one of the premier “model” organisms for studying genome structure and gene function. They focused on one particular transposon, called the P element, which has an unsurpassed ability to move that has stimulated its widespread use by Drosophila researchers.
Remarkably, P elements have only been present in Drosophila melanogaster for about 80 years, at which time they were acquired from the genome of a distantly related fruit fly species by an unknown process. P elements remain highly “infective” today. Adding just one copy to the genome of one fly causes all the flies in a laboratory population with which it breeds to acquire 30 to 50 P elements within a few generations. The original goal of the Spradling team’s research was not to understand how transposons spread or genomes evolve, but something much simpler: To learn why P elements insert at some locations in the genome but not in others.
P elements insert into DNA very selectively. Nearly 40% of new jumps occur within just 300 genes and always near the beginning of the gene. But the genes seemed to have nothing in common. When these sites were compared to data about the Drosophila genome, particularly recent studies of Drosophila genome duplication, the answer became clear. What many P insertion sites share in common is an ability to function as starting sites or “origins” for DNA duplication. This association between P elements and the machinery of genome duplication suggested that they can coordinate their movement with DNA replication.
Definitely an idea worth pursuing, but what they must now demonstrate is permanent, functional improvements resulting from this process.