Decades of work have elucidated the existence of two forms of heritable information, namely genetic and epigenetic, which are collectively referred to as the 'dual inheritance'. The underlying mechanisms behind these two modes of inheritance have so far remained distinct. Cytosine deaminases, such as activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID) and other members of the APOBEC family, have been implicated both in genetic variation of somatic cells and in epigenetic remodeling of germ and pluripotent cells. We hereby synthesize these seemingly dissociated functions into one coherent model, and further suggest that cytosine deaminases, particularly AID, might have a broader influence by modulating epigenetic information in somatic or cancer cells, as well as by triggering genetic variation in germ and pluripotent cells through mutation followed by natural selection. We therefore propose that the AID/APOBEC family of deaminases are likely to have acted as drivers throughout vertebrate evolution.
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