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The Price of Silence

2 July 2003: In contrast to the biallelic expression of most genes, expression of genes subject to genomic imprinting is monoallelic and based on the sex of the transmitting parent. Possession of only a single active allele can lead to deleterious health consequences in humans. Aberrant expression of imprinted genes, through either genetic or epigenetic alterations, can result in developmental failures, neurodevelopmental and neurobehavioral disorders and cancer. The evolutionary emergence of imprinting occurred in a common ancestor to viviparous mammals after divergence from the egg-laying monotremes. Current evidence indicates that imprinting regulation in metatherian mammals differs from that in eutherian mammals. This suggests that imprinting mechanisms are evolving from those that were established 150 million years ago. Therefore, comparing genomic sequence of imprinted domains from marsupials and eutherians with those of orthologous regions in monotremes offers a potentially powerful bioinformatics approach for identifying novel imprinted genes and their regulatory elements. Such comparative studies will also further our understanding of the molecular evolution and phylogenetic distribution of imprinted genes.