The Cost of Silence: Evolution of Epigenetic Mechanisms in Nematodes and beyond
Transposable elements (TEs) are ubiquitous in eukaryotic genomes, where their ability to proliferate is a severe threat to genome stability. However, it is becoming clear that transposable element insertions have played important roles in genome evolution. Epigenetic silencing mechanisms that control TEs thus must strike a balance to protect the genome without completely stifling an important source of evolutionary novelty. We are using nematodes as a model system to understand how TEs and their control mechanisms combine to set the pace of evolutionary change. Here, I will present our recent work investigating how environmental stimuli regulate the Piwi-interacting small RNA (piRNA) pathway in C. elegans to establish transgenerational epigenetic effects. I will then present our analysis of the evolution of DNA methylation in nematodes, which reveals a surprising link between DNA repair and DNA methylation which holds true in mammalian cells and helping to explain why DNA methylation has been lost independently in many metazoan lineages.
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