The nature of the role played by mobile elements in host genome evolution is reassessed considering numerous recent developments in many areas of biology. It is argued that easy popular appellations such as “selfish DNA” and “junk DNA” may be either inaccurate or misleading and that a more enlightened view of the transposable element-host relationship encompasses a continuum from extreme parasitism to mutualism. Transposable elements are potent, broad spectrum, endogenous mutators that are subject to the influence of chance as well as selection at several levels of biological organization. Of particular interest are transposable element traits that early evolve neutrally at the host level but at a later stage of evolution are co-opted for new host functions.
Corresponding Editor: T. Markow.