In mythology, the Trickster is an archetype who typically behaves selfishly and delights in playing tricks and breaking ordinary rules. In many myths and folktales, however, the Trickster also brings new knowledge and, ultimately, has positive effects on the community. Transposable elements (TEs) might have played such a role in the story of genome evolution. TEs can cause nonroutine genetic events like insertional mutations and ectopic recombination that provide a fundamental source of genetic variation, but they can also be a potential threat to genome integrity. Thus, the activity of TEs is usually controlled by an array of sophisticated mechanisms for genome defense. Recent findings indicate that TEs are important components of eukaryotic genomes, often to a much larger extent than ever anticipated. In this review, I focus on the contributions of TEs to various aspects of genome evolution. In addition, why TEs are specific targets for the genome defense mechanisms is discussed.
© 2011 The Author. Journal compilation © 2011 by the Molecular Biology Society of Japan/Blackwell Publishing Ltd.