Telomeres and genomic evolution

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2018 Mar 5;373(1741):20160437. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2016.0437.


The terminal regions of eukaryotic chromosomes, composed of telomere repeat sequences and sub-telomeric sequences, represent some of the most variable and rapidly evolving regions of the genome. The sub-telomeric regions are characterized by segmentally duplicated repetitive DNA elements, interstitial telomere repeat sequences and families of variable genes. Sub-telomeric repeat sequence families are shared among multiple chromosome ends, often rendering detailed sequence characterization difficult. These regions are composed of constitutive heterochromatin and are subjected to high levels of meiotic recombination. Dysfunction within telomere repeat arrays, either due to disruption in the chromatin structure or because of telomere shortening, can lead to chromosomal fusion and the generation of large-scale genomic rearrangements across the genome. The dynamic nature of telomeric regions, therefore, provides functionally useful variation to create genetic diversity, but also provides a mechanism for rapid genomic evolution that can lead to reproductive isolation and speciation. This article is part of the theme issue 'Understanding diversity in telomere dynamics'.This article is part of the theme issue 'Understanding diversity in telomere dynamics'.

Keywords: DNA repair; evolution; genome; telomere.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chromosomal Instability
  • Chromosomes / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Recombinational DNA Repair
  • Telomere / genetics*
  • Telomere Homeostasis*