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Transposons: from ‘selfish’ genes to key elements in biological processes

25 September 2023
The studies carried out by SISSA and IIT led to the publication of three articles with unexpected results

In 2001 the sequencing of the human genome revealed a surprising fact: over 45% of our genome comes from sequences called transposons, ‘jumping’ genes that can move within the genome, generating new copies of themselves through molecular mechanisms of cut-and-paste or copy-and-paste. Because of this characteristic, they are also called ‘selfish genes’, interested only in replicating, in a way similar to the action of viruses. However, new research carried out in collaboration between SISSA - Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati and IIT - Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, led by Professors Stefano Gustincich and Remo Sanges, has revealed important and unexpected functions associated with these transposons, debunking their reputation as selfish genes.