Genetics researcher Jef Boeke is a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. Jef Boeke’s research interests include mobile genetic elements in humans and yeast, often referred to as transposable elements, or “transposons.”
Commonly known as “jumping genes,” transposons are mobile pieces of DNA that can move from one segment of the genome to another. Because transposon insertion can interrupt the expression of important genes, many researchers think of transposons as harmful. However, recent research suggests that transposable elements may play a beneficial role in different types of organisms.
When two strains of bacteria, one with relatively few transposable elements and one with the normal amount, are grown in competitive conditions, the strain with more transposable elements tends to grow more vigorously. Although the exact reasons for this competitive advantage are not yet known, researchers have proposed that transposition facilitates the repair of chromosome breaks. More genetics research needs to be done on the role of transposons at a molecular level.