Regulatory DNAs serve as templates to bring weakly interacting transcription factors into close proximity so they can work synergistically to switch genes on and off in time and space. Most of these regulatory DNAs are enhancers that can work over long distances--a million base pairs or more in mammals--to control gene expression. Critical enhancers are sometimes even found within the introns of neighboring genes. This review summarizes well-defined examples of enhancers controlling key processes in animal development. Potential mechanisms of transcriptional synergy are discussed with regard to enhancer structure and contemporary ChIP-sequencing assays, whereby just a small fraction of the observed binding sites represent bona fide regulatory DNAs. Finally, there is a discussion of how enhancer evolution can produce novelty in animal morphology and of the prospects for reconstructing transitions in animal evolution by introducing derived enhancers in basal ancestors.
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