Genomic Imprinting and Intragenomic Conflict

The term genomic imprinting refers to the phenomenon where the expression pattern of an allele depends on its parental origin. That is, at an imprinted locus, the maternally and paternally derived gene copies will behave differently, even if they share the identical DNA sequence. The most successful theory of the evolutionary origins of genomic imprinting is based on the idea of intragenomic conflict. In general, the effects of natural selection are not identical for maternally and paternally derived alleles. If the asymmetry of selection is sufficiently strong, alleles can evolve two different conditional expression strategies.

I am particularly interested in the functional consequences of intragenomic conflict at the level of the individual organism. Genomic imprinting, like other instances of intragenomic conflict (e.g., segregation distorters), can lead to antagonistic coevolution among loci, even if it results in maladaptive consequences for the individual. Of particular interest are the imprinted genes that are expressed in the brain, and are associated with a variety of cognitive and behavioral phenotypes. Antagonistic coevolution involving these genes may contribute to certain major psychiatric disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, as well as self-deating behaviors related to, for example, inconsistent time preferences.

Another area of interest is in how intragenomic conflict shapes the evolution of recombination. In this case, the antagonistic coevolution occurs between trans-acting factors (e.g., proteins) that initiate recombination and the cis-acting elements (e.g., DNA sequence) that are targeted by those factors.

Related Publications:

Wilkins, J. F. (in press) Phenotypic plasticity, pleiotropy, and the growth-first theory of imprinting. In Environmental Epigenomics in Health and Disease. Eds. Jirtle, R. & Tyson F.

Wilkins, J. F. & Úbeda, F. 2011 Diseases associated with genomic imprinting. Prog. Mol. Biol. Transl. Sci. 101, 401-445.

Brandvain, Y., Van Cleve, J., Úbeda, F., Wilkins, J. F. 2011 Demography, kinship, and the evolving theory of genomic imprinting. Trends Genet. 27, 251-257. [DOI: 10.1016/j.tig.2011.04.005] (Trends Genet 2011 Brandvain)

Úbeda, F. & Wilkins, J. F. 2011 The Red Queen theory of recombination hotspots. J. Evol. Biol. 24, 541-553. [DOI: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2010.02187.x]

Wilkins, J. F. 2010 Genomic imprinting and conflict-induced decanalization.  Evolution 65, 537-553 [DOI: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2010.01147.x] (Evolution 2010 Wilkins-1)

Wilkins, J. F. 2010 Antagonistic coevolution of two imprinted loci with pleiotropic effects.  Evolution64, 142-151. [DOI: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00826.x] (Evolution 2010 Wilkins)

Wilkins, J. F., editor.  2008  Genomic Imprinting.  Springer, New York and Landes Bioscience, Austin, TX.  URL:

Úbeda, F. & Wilkins, J. F.  2008 Imprinted genes and human disease: An evolutionary perspective.  Adv. Exp. Med. Biol. 626, 101-115.  In: Wilkins, J. F., ed. Genomic Imprinting, Springer, New York & Landes Bioscience, Austin, TX.

Wilkins, J. F. 2008 Epigenetic Variation in Humans. In: Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd: Chichester. [DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020811]

Wilkins, J. F.  2007  Maternal Influence.  McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology.

Wilkins, J. F.  2006  Competitive signal discrimination, methylation reprogramming and genomic imprinting.  J. Theor. Biol. 242, 643-651. [DOI: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2006.04.015] (J Theor Biol 2006 Wilkins)

Wilkins, J. F.  2006 Tissue-specific reactivation of gene expression at an imprinted locus.  J. Theor. Biol. 240, 277-287. [DOI: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2005.09.007] (J Theor Biol 2006 Wilkins-2)

Wilkins, J. F.  2005 DNA methylation and imprinting: epigenetic canalization and conflict. Trends Genet. 21, 356-365. [DOI: 10.1016/j.tig.2005.04.005] (Trends Genet 2005 Wilkins)

Wilkins, J. F. & Haig, D. 2003 What good is genomic imprinting: The function of parent-specific gene expression.  Nat. Rev. Genet. 4, 359-368. [DOI: 10.1038/nrg1062] (Nat Rev Genet 2003 Wilkins)

Wilkins, J. F. & Haig, D. 2003 Inbreeding, maternal care and genomic imprinting.  J. Theor. Biol. 221, 559-564. [DOI: 10.1016/jtbi.2003.3206] (J Theor Biol 2003 Wilkins)

Wilkins, J. F. & Haig, D. 2002 Parental modifiers, antisense transcripts and loss of imprinting.  Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 269, 1841-1846. [DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2002.2096] (Proc Biol Sci 2002 Wilkins)

Wilkins, J. F. & Haig, D. 2001 Genomic imprinting at two antagonistic loci.  Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 268, 1861-1867. (Proc Biol Sci 2001 Wilkins)

Haig, D. & Wilkins, J. F. 2000 Genomic imprinting, sibling solidarity and the logic of collective action.  Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 355, 1593-1597. (Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2000 Haig)

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