Evolutionary Biology

, Volume 44, Issue 2, pp 190–205 | Cite as

Junk DNA Contribution to Evolutionary Capacitance Can Drive Species Dynamics

  • Carlos Díaz-CastilloEmail author
Synthesis Paper


Junk DNA is still an enigmatic concept. Although junk DNA composition, abundance, and functionality are still contentious, its contribution to biological evolution is less questionable. Recently, I proposed that sexually restricted chromosomes such as Y and W, highly enriched in junk DNA elements, act as genomic tuning knobs indirectly causing a genome-wide increase in gene expression heterogeneity that boosts heterogametic individuals ability to endure environmental challenges and evolutionary capacitance, i.e., the store of genetic variation with no phenotypic effect. Sexually restricted chromosomes-based evolutionary capacitance might importantly contribute to metazoan sexual dimorphisms for dispersal and sex-biased gene expression dynamics. In this Synthesis, I hypothesize that large differences between species in the overall amount of junk DNA within their genomes also promote differences in junk DNA-based evolutionary capacitance that might be reflected in differences for dispersal and genetic diversification. I hypothesize that populations for species with junk DNA-impoverished genomes would show an enhanced ability to genetically diversify leading to a faster speciation rate even in the absence of geographic isolation when compared with populations for species with junk DNA-enriched genomes. To support junk DNA variation-based evolutionary capacitance effect on species genetic diversification, I analyzed the covariation of genome size as proxy for the overall amount of junk DNA in the genome and several genetic diversification measures obtained from interspecific crosses for the Drosophilidae family. The potential effect of junk DNA variation-based evolutionary capacitance for other elements of species dynamics such as extinction or the participation in grouped ecological structures is also briefly discussed.


Junk DNA Genomic tuning knobs Evolutionary capacitance Heterochromatin Gene expression heterogeneity Speciation Dispersal Extinction 



The author wants to express his deepest gratitude to Raquel Chamorro-García for valuable comments during the preparation of this article and her constant support.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 30 KB)
11692_2016_9404_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (29 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 29 KB)


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IrvineUSA

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