Noncanonical DNA structures are drivers of genome evolution


In addition to the canonical right-handed double helix, other DNA structures, termed ‘non-B DNA’, can form in the genomes across the tree of life. Non-B DNA regulates multiple cellular processes, including replication and transcription, yet its presence is associated with elevated mutagenicity and genome instability. These discordant cellular roles fuel the enormous potential of non-B DNA to drive genomic and phenotypic evolution. Here we discuss recent studies establishing non-B DNA structures as novel functional elements subject to natural selection, affecting evolution of transposable elements (TEs), and specifying centromeres. By highlighting the contributions of non-B DNA to repeated evolution and adaptation to changing environments, we conclude that evolutionary analyses should include a perspective of not only DNA sequence, but also its structure.

Trends in Genetics