Date: 25 Nov 2011

James Shapiro: Evolution: a view from the 21st century

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About the author

Dr James Shapiro is Professor of Microbiology at the University of Chicago. Shapiro completed a BA in English literature from Harvard (1964) and a PhD in Genetics from Cambridge (1968). As a bacterial geneticist, he specializes in studies of mobile genetic elements in bacteria. As a matter of fact, in his PhD thesis he had already made first suggestions about the so-called transposable elements (mobile pieces of genetic material that can insert at new locations on chromosomes, also referred to as “jumping genes”) in bacteria.

The transportable elements, or transposons, are today considered essential components of many genomes. Because they move around the genome, transposons cause significant changes in genome organization and gene sequence. They can cause insertion/deletion of DNA and result in mutation. During the 1970s, it was discovered that they assisted in the transfer of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Today it is also accepted that transposable elements may