Invited Speaker Annual Conference of the Genetics Society of Australasia with the NZ Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

How the other half live: the evolution of repetitive DNA (675)

Austen R.D. Ganley 1 , Huitong Zhou 2
  1. School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland
  2. Gene-maker Laboratory, Lincoln University, Christchurch

Repeats are persona non grata in the genomic world. They are often conflated with “junk” DNA and (pejoratively) labelled as “heterochromatic”. We have active discrimination systems in place, most notably repeatmasker, to exclude repeats from the fruits of the genomic revolution. Yet, repeats are incredible diverse, abundant, and important contributors to genomes, particularly in eukaryotes. The approach of ignoring them, based on a path-of-least-resistance response to complications they pose, both creates problems and misses opportunities for biological insight. The “problems” in dealing with repeats in genomic datasets are now largely overstated, and advances in sequencing technologies are providing ways to develop deep insights into their nature. To wit, the more we look, the more we find. Here I will talk about our work investigating the evolution of different types of repeats. I will propose a general framework for characterizing repeat evolution. This framework removes ambiguities that arise from previous models of repeat evolution, and enables a coherent description of the evolution of repeats to be incorporated into a biological understanding of their roles.