More than half of the human genome is derived from retroelements, which are mobile genetic units spreading by the copy-and-paste mechanism used by retroviruses such as HIV. Retroelements are essential motors of evolution, as they can disrupt, activate or inactivate genes, move pieces of chromosomes around, and serve as hot spots for genetic recombination. These mutations are often deleterious, and retroelements are accordingly kept under very tight control through so-called epigenetic modifications, which are imposed to their sequences during the earliest stages of embryonic development. Our research explores the delicate equilibrium between retroelements and their hosts, dissecting how these genetic invaders and their controlling mechanisms impact on higher organisms including humans, whether in health or in disease.
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