Understanding Jumping Genes

The human body is full of amazing things – many of which we may not fully understand and remain a mystery forever to those who have no medical background. Yet, understanding some of these more complex concepts can shed light on a lot of issues we are dealing with that we begin to realize how helpful it is to know more about the human body, for instance, so we don’t remain in the dark forever. And we actually have a lot to learn considering the human body changes as it matures and grows over the years.

One of the most less talked about topic is the one involving jumping genes. For sure, many of you haven’t even heard about it until now. But why is it relevant in our life? It’s time to find out… Jumping genes a.k.a. transposable elements or transposons are essentially DNA sequences that jump from one part of the genome to another. They are often considered as “junk DNA” since their discovery in the 40’s but studies and researches further debunked this theory and proved the importance of jumping genes in the regulation of gene expression. Sounds pretty deep but it really has a lot of practical applications in real life.

Exactly how these ancient jumping genes contributed to the development of the modern human is unclear. Scientists think that their step-wise integration coincided with the emergence of an increasingly complex brain structure, possibly giving us a crucial advantage during primate evolution. And their influence can still be felt today.

Jumping genes lack the code needed in the creation of functional proteins but they play a major role in developing the placenta during pregnancy and in regulating gene expression during the early stages of development of the human embryo. In such a way, jumping genes helps develop immunity and brain function at the embryonic level.

Today, we know that jumping genes are important for placental development and actively regulate gene expression during early embryonic development.

The jumping gene known as HERVK is thought to be a remnant of an infection by an ancient retrovirus that took up residence in the genome around 200,000 years ago.

HERVK is switched on at the very early stage of human embryonic development and triggers a precise antiviral response, even though no virus is present.

Scientists think that this event may provide the developing embryo with some level of viral resistance, which is, of course, a favorable trait.

(Via: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318978.php)

While they have their pros, jumping genes have their cons too. And they are actually famous for that – perhaps just a misconception. They are instrumental in the passing of negative traits or hereditary conditions like neurodegeneration and blood disorders, even certain cancers. While they generally do not possess any useful genetic information, this type of gene doesn’t often trigger negative effects in itself since it is posited in a genome’s non-functional region and that left them to accumulate as “genome parasites” over the years.

Nearly half [of our genes are] made up of jumping genes, which are also called mobile DNA or mobile genetic elements. These stretches of DNA have the ability to move from one location in the genome to another, an ability that normal genes lack.

Exactly how these ancient jumping genes contributed to the development of the modern human is unclear. Scientists think that their step-wise integration coincided with the emergence of an increasingly complex brain structure, possibly giving us a crucial advantage during primate evolution. And their influence can still be felt today.

(Via: https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2017/08/22/mysterious-jumping-genes-responsible-spontaneous-diseases-birth/)

The human body is amazing in itself even if we do not always understand what is going on inside it. But as life becomes more complex and we are exposed to more serious threats and complications, it is inevitable for us not to study the human body even further in order to find potential answers to things we don’t understand or even bother us. It’s why jumping genes are becoming an interesting topic in the medical world in recent years because it is shedding some light on problems we can’t seem to find an answer for.