No gene in the genome makes sense except in the light of evolution.
Haerty W., Ponting CP.
Evolutionary conservation has been an accurate predictor of functional elements across the first decade of metazoan genomics. More recently, there has been a move to define functional elements instead from biochemical annotations. Evolutionary methods are, however, more comprehensive than biochemical approaches can be and can assess quantitatively, especially for subtle effects, how biologically important--how injurious after mutation--different types of elements are. Evolutionary methods are thus critical for understanding the large fraction (up to 10%) of the human genome that does not encode proteins and yet might convey function. These methods can also capture the ephemeral nature of much noncoding functional sequence, with large numbers of functional elements having been gained and lost rapidly along each mammalian lineage. Here, we review how different strengths of purifying selection have impacted on protein-coding and non-protein-coding loci and on transcription factor binding sites in mammalian and fruit fly genomes.