Contact InformationDr. Douglas Hoen
Department of Biology, McGill University
1205 ave Docteur Penfield, Rm N4/3
Montreal, Quebec CANADA H3A 1B1
tel. (514) 398-2141
douglas.hoen @ mail.mcgill.ca
For several decades, transposable elements suffered from a bad rap: it was realized that because they self-replicate they do not need to benefit their host to survive. Although little evidence could then be had with available molecular biological technologies to confirm this hypothesis, the perception dominated. Times have changed. We are barely past the inception of the post-genomic era, yet sufficient evidence has already amassed to be confident that in fact host organisms have directly and indirectly received diverse functional and evolutionary benefits from their mobile genomic residents, from DNA methylation and genomic imprinting, to adaptive immunity and placental development, to the evolution of gene regulation networks specific to various taxa, and so on. And our exploration of the contribution of transposable elements to genome evolution has barely begun.
In general, I am interested in understanding how genomes evolve, especially how genomic components with widely differing rates and modes of evolution, such as mobile elements and conventional host genes, interact over evolutionary time -- and the practical consequences of such interactions, such as how they may complicate genome annotation. In my doctoral research, I primarily use genome-scale computational analyses to investigate the exchange of genetic material between transposable elements and conventional genes. For instance, transposable elements can duplicate fragments of conventional genes, mobilizing and recombining them to form genetic elements with potential regulatory, or even protein coding, functions. Conversely, mobile genes that benefit the host can become immobilized to form conventional genes. Genome-scale analyses of such processes have provided insight into their significance and mechanisms, and have yielded practical benefits from the identification of novel traits to improved methods of transposable element identification and genome annotation.