Many organisms are currently polyploid, or have a polyploid ancestry and now have secondarily 'diploidized' genomes. This finding is surprising because retained whole-genome duplications (WGDs) are exceedingly rare, suggesting that polyploidy is usually an evolutionary dead end. We argue that ancient genome doublings could probably have survived only under very specific conditions, but that, whenever established, they might have had a pronounced impact on species diversification, and led to an increase in biological complexity and the origin of evolutionary novelties.
What was once thought of as DNA with zero value in plants--dubbed "junk" DNA--may turn out to be key in helping scientists improve the control of gene expression in transgenic crops. For more than 30 years, scientists have been perplexed by the workings of intergenic DNA, which is located between genes. Scientists have since found that, among other functions, some intergenic DNA plays a physical role in protecting and linking chromosomes. But after subtracting intergenic DNA, there was still leftover or "junk" DNA which seemed to have no purpose. Cooper and collaborators investigated "junk" DNA in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, using a computer program to find short segments of DNA that appeared as molecular patterns. When comparing these patterns to genes, Cooper's team found that 50 percent of the genes had the exact same sequences as the molecular patterns. This discovery showed a sequence pattern link between "junk" and coding DNA. These linked patterns are called pyknons, which Cooper and his team believe might be evidence of something important that drives genome expansion in plants.
The researchers found that pyknons are also the same in sequence and size as small segments of RNA that regulate gene expression through a method known as gene silencing. This evidence suggests that these RNA segments are converted back into DNA and are integrated into the intergenic space. Over time, these sequences repeatedly accumulate. Prior to this discovery, pyknons were only known to exist in the human genome. Thus, this discovery in plants illustrates that the link between coding DNA and junk DNA crosses higher orders of biology and suggests a universal genetic mechanism at play that is not yet fully understood. The data suggest that scientists might be able to use this information to determine which genes are regulated by gene silencing, and that there may be some application for the improvement of transgenic plants by using the pyknon information.