Information, Interpretation and Identity in the Evolution of Gene Regulation
Biological entities, whether proteins, blue whales, sensory organs or cis-regulatory elements are continuously interacting with other structures, establishing complex networks through which biological information is exchanged. These interaction networks are assembled and maintained during the course of evolution. But, what happens when new elements are incorporated for the first time into an extant biological system? How are these novel players integrated and how are their interaction partners initially set?
Through a variety of mutational processes, genomic information is being continuously modified during evolution, by changing and reshuffling the functional interactions between existing genomic elements and with the addition of newly originated elements. The appearance of these genomic novelties often involves completely new molecular encounters where a given molecular entity had to face a hitherto ‘unknown’ molecular environment: for example, the co-occurrence in time and space of a protein with other proteins with which it had never overlapped before. Importantly, this type of first-time encounters constitutes the starting point for multiple evolutionary phenomena that are major drivers of molecular evolution.