BMC Evolutionary Biology

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March 25, 2015

18:00
Background: On rugged fitness landscapes where sign epistasis is common, adaptation can often involve either individually beneficial “uphill” mutations or more complex mutational trajectories involving fitness valleys or plateaus. The dynamics of the evolutionary process determine the probability that evolution will take any specific path among a variety of competing possible trajectories. Understanding this evolutionary choice is essential if we are to understand the outcomes and predictability of adaptation on rugged landscapes. Results: We present a simple model to analyze the probability that evolution will eschew immediately uphill paths in favor of crossing fitness valleys or plateaus that lead to higher fitness but less accessible genotypes. We calculate how this probability depends on the population size, mutation rates, and relevant selection pressures, and compare our analytical results to Wright-Fisher simulations. Conclusion: We find that the probability of valley crossing depends nonmonotonically on population size: intermediate size populations are most likely to follow a “greedy” strategy of acquiring immediately beneficial mutations even if they lead to evolutionary dead ends, while larger and smaller populations are more likely to cross fitness valleys to reach distant advantageous genotypes. We explicitly identify the boundaries between these different regimes in terms of the relevant evolutionary parameters. Above a certain threshold population size, we show that the probability that the population finds the more distant peak depends only on a single simple combination of the relevant parameters.

March 24, 2015

18:00
Background: Mutualistic obligate endosymbioses shape the evolution of endosymbiont genomes, but their impact on host genomes remains unclear. Insects of the sub-order Sternorrhyncha (Hemiptera) depend on bacterial endosymbionts for essential amino acids present at low abundances in their phloem-based diet. This obligate dependency has been proposed to explain why multiple amino acid transporter genes are maintained in the genomes of the insect hosts. We implemented phylogenetic comparative methods to test whether amino acid transporters have proliferated in sternorrhynchan genomes at rates grater than expected by chance. Results: By applying a series of methods to reconcile gene and species trees, inferring the size of gene families in ancestral lineages, and simulating the null process of birth and death in multi-gene families, we uncovered a 10-fold increase in duplication rate in the AAAP family of amino acid transporters within Sternorrhyncha. This gene family expansion was unmatched in other closely related clades lacking endosymbionts that provide essential amino acids. Conclusions: Our findings support the influence of obligate endosymbioses on host genome evolution by both inferring significant expansions of gene families involved in symbiotic interactions, and discovering increases in the rate of duplication associated with multiple emergences of obligate symbiosis in Sternorrhyncha.
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Background: Male salamanders (Urodela) often make use of pheromones that are produced in sexually dimorphic glands to persuade the female into courtship and mating. The mental gland of lungless salamanders (Plethodontidae) and dorsal cloacal glands (or abdominal glands) of newts (Salamandridae) have been particularly well studied in that respect. In both families, sodefrin precursor-like factor (SPF) proteins have been identified as major components of the courtship pheromone system. However, similar to plethodontids, some newts also make use of subtle head glands during courtship, but few pheromones have been characterized from such structures. Males of red-spotted newts (Notophthalmus viridescens, Salamandridae) have both cloacal and cheek (genial) glands, and are known to apply secretions to the female’s nose by both tail-fanning and cheek-rubbing. Here we combined transcriptomic and phylogenetic analyses to investigate the presence, diversity and evolution of SPF proteins in the cloacal and cheek glands of this species. Results: Our analyses indicate that the cheek glands of male N. viridescens produce a similar amount and diversity of SPF isoforms as the cloacal glands in this species. Expression in other tissues was much lower, suggesting that both male-specific courtship glands secrete SPF pheromones during courtship. Our phylogenetic analyses show that N. viridescens expresses a combination of isoforms that stem from four highly diverged evolutionary lineages of SPF variants, that together form a basis for the broad diversity of SPF precursors in the breeding glands. Conclusions: The similar SPF expression of cheek and cloacal glands suggests that this protein family is used for pheromone signalling through cheek rubbing in the red-spotted newt. Since several male salamandrids in other genera have comparable head glands, SPF application via other glands than the cloacal glands may be more widespread than currently appreciated in salamandrids.

March 20, 2015

18:00
Background: Populations of a species often differ in key traits. However, it is rarely known whether these differences are associated with genetic variation and evolved differences between populations, or are instead simply a plastic response to environmental differences experienced by the populations. Here we examine the interplay of plasticity and direct genetic control by investigating temperature-size relationships in populations of Drosophila pseudoobscura from North America. We used 27 isolines from three populations and exposed them to four temperature regimes (16°C, 20°C, 23°C, 26°C) to examine environmental, genetic and genotype-by-environment sources of variance in wing size. Results: By far the largest contribution to variation in wing size came from rearing temperature, with the largest flies emerging from the coolest temperatures. However, we also found a genetic signature that was counter to this pattern as flies originating from the northern, cooler population were consistently smaller than conspecifics from more southern, warmer populations when reared under the same laboratory conditions. Conclusions: We conclude that local selection on body size appears to be acting counter to the environmental effect of temperature. We find no evidence that local adaptation in phenotypic plasticity can explain this result, and suggest indirect selection on traits closely linked with body size, or patterns of chromosome inversion may instead be driving this relationship.

March 18, 2015

06:00
Background: With 10,000 species, Magnoliidae are the largest clade of flowering plants outside monocots and eudicots. Despite an ancient and rich fossil history, the tempo and mode of diversification of Magnoliidae remain poorly known. Using a molecular data set of 12 markers and 220 species (representing >75% of genera in Magnoliidae) and six robust, internal fossil age constraints, we estimate divergence times and significant shifts of diversification across the clade. In addition, we test the sensitivity of magnoliid divergence times to the choice of relaxed clock model and various maximum age constraints for the angiosperms. Results: Compared with previous work, our study tends to push back in time the age of the crown node of Magnoliidae (178.78-126.82 million years, Myr), and of the four orders, Canellales (143.18-125.90 Myr), Piperales (158.11-88.15 Myr), Laurales (165.62-112.05 Myr), and Magnoliales (164.09-114.75 Myr). Although families vary in crown ages, Magnoliidae appear to have diversified into most extant families by the end of the Cretaceous. The strongly imbalanced distribution of extant diversity within Magnoliidae appears to be best explained by models of diversification with 6 to 13 shifts in net diversification rates. Significant increases are inferred within Piperaceae and Annonaceae, while the low species richness of Calycanthaceae, Degeneriaceae, and Himantandraceae appears to be the result of decreases in both speciation and extinction rates. Conclusions: This study provides a new time scale for the evolutionary history of an important, but underexplored, part of the tree of angiosperms. The ages of the main clades of Magnoliidae (above the family level) are older than previously thought, and in several lineages, there were significant increases and decreases in net diversification rates. This study is a new robust framework for future investigations of trait evolution and of factors influencing diversification in this group as well as angiosperms as a whole.

March 17, 2015

18:00
Background: The diversity of the symbiotic dinoflagellate Symbiodinium sp., as assessed by genetic markers, is well established. To what extent this diversity is reflected on the amino acid level of functional genes such as enzymatic antioxidants that play an important role in thermal stress tolerance of the coral-Symbiodinium symbiosis is, however, unknown. Here we present a predicted structural analysis and phylogenetic characterization of the enzymatic antioxidant repertoire of the genus Symbiodinium. We also report gene expression and enzymatic activity under short-term thermal stress in Symbiodinium of the B1 genotype. Results: Based on eight different ITS2 types, covering six clades, multiple protein isoforms for three of the four investigated antioxidants (ascorbate peroxidase [APX], catalase peroxidase [KatG], manganese superoxide dismutase [MnSOD]) are present in the genus Symbiodinium. Amino acid sequences of both SOD metalloforms (Fe/Mn), as well as KatG, exhibited a number of prokaryotic characteristics that were also supported by the protein phylogeny. In contrast to the bacterial form, KatG in Symbiodinium is characterized by extended functionally important loops and a shortened C-terminal domain. Intercladal sequence variations were found to be much higher in both peroxidases, compared to SODs. For APX, these variable residues involve binding sites for substrates and cofactors, and might therefore differentially affect the catalytic properties of this enzyme between clades. While expression of antioxidant genes was successfully measured in Symbiodinium B1, it was not possible to assess the link between gene expression and protein activity due to high variability in expression between replicates, and little response in their enzymatic activity over the three-day experimental period. Conclusions: The genus Symbiodinium has a diverse enzymatic antioxidant repertoire that has similarities to prokaryotes, potentially as a result of horizontal gene transfer or events of secondary endosymbiosis. Different degrees of sequence evolution between SODs and peroxidases might be the result of potential selective pressure on the conserved molecular function of SODs as the first line of defence. In contrast, genetic redundancy of hydrogen peroxide scavenging enzymes might permit the observed variations in peroxidase sequences. Our data and successful measurement of antioxidant gene expression in Symbiodinium will serve as basis for further studies of coral health.
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Background: Bambusoideae (Poaceae) comprise three distinct and well-supported lineages: tropical woody bamboos (Bambuseae), temperate woody bamboos (Arundinarieae) and herbaceous bamboos (Olyreae). Phylogenetic studies using chloroplast markers have generally supported a sister relationship between Bambuseae and Olyreae. This suggests either at least two origins of the woody bamboo syndrome in this subfamily or its loss in Olyreae. Results: Here a full chloroplast genome (plastome) phylogenomic study is presented using the coding and noncoding regions of 13 complete plastomes from the Bambuseae, eight from Olyreae and 10 from Arundinarieae. Trees generated using full plastome sequences support the previously recovered monophyletic relationship between Bambuseae and Olyreae. In addition to these relationships, several unique plastome features are uncovered including the first mitogenome-to-plastome horizontal gene transfer observed in monocots. Conclusions: Phylogenomic agreement with previous published phylogenies reinforces the validity of these studies. Additionally, this study presents the first published plastomes from Neotropical woody bamboos and the first full plastome phylogenomic study performed within the herbaceous bamboos. Although the phylogenomic tree presented in this study is largely robust, additional studies using nuclear genes support monophyly in woody bamboos as well as hybridization among previous woody bamboo lineages. The evolutionary history of the Bambusoideae could be further clarified using transcriptomic techniques to increase sampling among nuclear orthologues and investigate the molecular genetics underlying the development of woody and floral tissues.

March 13, 2015

18:00
Background: Amelotin (AMTN) is an ameloblast-secreted protein that belongs to the secretory calcium-binding phosphoprotein (SCPP) family, which originated in early vertebrates. In rodents, AMTN is expressed during the maturation stage of amelogenesis only. This expression pattern strongly differs from the spatiotemporal expression of other ameloblast-secreted SCPPs, such as the enamel matrix proteins (EMPs). Furthermore, AMTN was characterized in rodents only. In this study, we applied various approaches, including in silico screening of databases, PCRs and transcriptome sequencing to characterize AMTN sequences in sauropsids and amphibians, and compared them to available mammalian and coelacanth sequences. Results: We showed that (i) AMTN is tooth (enamel) specific and underwent pseudogenization in toothless turtles and birds, and (ii) the AMTN structure changed during tetrapod evolution. To infer AMTN function, we studied spatiotemporal expression of AMTN during amelogenesis in a salamander and a lizard, and compared the results with available expression data from mouse. We found that AMTN is expressed throughout amelogenesis in non-mammalian tetrapods, in contrast to its expression limited to enamel maturation in rodents. Conclusions: Taken together our findings suggest that AMTN was primarily an EMP. Its functions were conserved in amphibians and sauropsids while a change occurred early in the mammalian lineage, modifying its expression pattern during amelogenesis and its gene structure. These changes likely led to a partial loss of AMTN function and could have a link with the emergence of prismatic enamel in mammals.
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Background: The symbiosis between corals and the dinoflagellate alga Symbiodinium is essential for the development and survival of coral reefs. Yet this fragile association is highly vulnerable to environmental disturbance. A coral’s ability to tolerate temperature stress depends on the fitness of its resident symbionts, whose thermal optima vary extensively between lineages. However, the in hospite population genetic structure of Symbiodinium is poorly understood and mostly based on analysis of bulk DNA extracted from thousands to millions of cells. Using quantitative single-cell PCR, we enumerated DNA polymorphisms in the symbionts of the reef-building coral Pocillopora damicornis, and applied a model selection approach to explore the potential for recombination between coexisting Symbiodinium populations. Results: Two distinct Symbiodinium ITS2 sequences (denoted C100 and C109) were retrieved from all P. damicornis colonies analysed. However, the symbiont assemblage consisted of three distinct Symbiodinium populations: cells featuring pure arrays of ITS2 type C109, near-homogeneous cells of type C100 (with trace ITS2 copies of type C109), and those with co-dominant C100 and C109 ITS2 repeats. The symbiont consortia of some colonies consisted almost entirely of these putative C100 × C109 recombinants. Conclusions: Our results are consistent with the occurrence of sexual recombination between Symbiodinium types C100 and C109. While the multiple-copy nature of the ITS2 dictates that the observed pattern of intra-genomic co-dominance may be a result of incomplete concerted evolution of intra-genomic polymorphisms, this is a less likely explanation given the occurrence of homogeneous cells of the C109 type. Conclusive evidence for inter-lineage recombination and introgression in this genus will require either direct observational evidence or a single-cell genotyping approach targeting multiple, single-copy loci.
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Background: Apocrita has a special structure that its first abdominal segment has been incorporated into the thorax as the propodeum. The remaining abdomen, metasoma, is connected to this hybrid region via a narrow propodeal-metasomal articulation forming a “wasp waist”, which serves an important function of providing maneuverability, flexibility and posture for oviposition. However, the origin and transformation of the propodeal-metasomal articulation are still vague. Ephialtitidae, as the basal group of Apocrita from the Early Jurassic to the Early Cretaceous, have shown various types of propodeal-metasomal articulations. Results: This study describes and illustrates two new genera with three new species, Acephialtitia colossa gen. et sp. nov., Proephialtitia acanthi gen. et sp. nov. and P. tenuata sp. nov., collected respectively from the Early Cretaceous Yixian Formation at Liutiaogou and the Middle Jurassic Jiulongshan Formation at Daohugou, both in Inner Mongolia, China. These genera are assigned to the Ephialtitidae based on their complete wing venation, e.g. 2r-rs, 2r-m, 3r-m and 2 m-cu always present in the forewings and Rs, M and Cu in the hind wings. These new fossil ephialtitids have well-preserved propodeal-metasomal articulations indicating metasoma is broadly attached to propodeum. Conclusion: The broad articulation between the propodeum and metasoma in basal Ephialtitidae, likely passed on from a still more basal family Karatavitidae, suggests three separate pathways of the transformation of the “wasp waist” in three different derived lineages leading from Ephialtitidae to: (i) Kuafuidae and further to the remaining Apocrita, (ii) Stephanidae, and (iii) Evanioidea. In addition, the demise of ephialtitid wasps lagging behind the flourishing of angiosperms suggests that ephialtitid extinction might have been mainly driven by competition with numerous new taxa (eg. the abundant Cretaceous xylophilous Baissinae and Ichneumonoidea) appeared just before or/and soon after the J/K boundary.
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Background: One of the first phyla to acquire biomineralized skeletal elements in the Cambrian, brachiopods represent a vital component in unraveling the early evolution and relationships of the Lophotrochozoa. Critical to improving our understanding of lophotrochozoans is the origin, evolution and function of unbiomineralized morphological features, in particular features such as chaetae that are shared between brachiopods and other lophotrochozoans but are poorly understood and rarely preserved. Micromitra burgessensis and Paterina zenobia from the middle Cambrian Burgess Shale are among the most remarkable examples of fossilized chaetae-bearing brachiopods. The form, functional morphology, evolutionary and ecological significance of their chaetae are studied herein. Results: Like in Recent forms, the moveable but semi-rigid chaetae fringe both the dorsal and ventral mantle margins, but in terms of length, the chaetae of Burgess Shale taxa can exceed twice the maximum length of the shell from which it projects. This is unique amongst Recent and fossil brachiopod taxa and given their size, prominence and energy investment to the organism certainly had an important functional significance. Micromitra burgessensis individuals are preserved on hard skeletal elements, including conspecific shells, Tubulella and frequently on the spicules of the sponge Pirania muricata, providing direct evidence of an ecological association between two species. Morphological analysis and comparisons with fossil and extant brachiopod chaetae point to a number of potential functions, including sensory, defence, feeding, defouling, mimicry and spatial competition. Conclusions: Our study indicates that it is feasible to link chaetae length to the lack of suitable substrate in the Burgess Shale environment and the increased intraspecific competition associated with this. Our results however, also lend support to the elongated chaetae as an example of Batesian mimicry, of the unpalatable sponge Pirania muricata. We also cannot discount brachiopod chaetae acting as a sensory grille, extending the tactile sensitivity of the mantle into the environment, as an early warning system to approaching predators.

March 12, 2015

18:00
Background: Polycomb repressive complex 1 (PRC1) is an essential protein complex for plant development. It catalyzes ubiquitination of histone H2A that is an important part of the transcription repression machinery. Absence of PRC1 subunits in Arabidopsis thaliana plants causes severe developmental defects. Many aspects of the plant PRC1 are elusive, including its origin and phylogenetic distribution. Results: We established the evolutionary history of the plant PRC1 subunits (LHP1, Ring1a-b, Bmi1a-c, EMF1, and VRN1), enabled by sensitive phylogenetic methods and newly sequenced plant genomes from previously unsampled taxonomic groups.We showed that all PRC1 core subunits exist in gymnosperms, earlier than previously thought, and that VRN1 is a recent addition, found exclusively in eudicots. The retention of individual subunits in chlorophytes, mosses, lycophytes and monilophytes indicates that they can moonlight as part of other complexes or processes. Moreover, we showed that most PRC1 subunits underwent a complex, duplication-rich history that differs significantly between Brassicaceae and other eudicots. Conclusions: PRC1 existed in the last common ancestor of seed plants where it likely played an important regulatory role, aiding their radiation. The presence of LHP1, Ring1 and Bmi1 in mosses, lycophytes and monilophytes also suggests the presence of a primitive yet functional PRC1.
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Background: Parasite-host arms race is one of the key factors in the evolution of life. Most cellular life forms, in particular prokaryotes, possess diverse forms of defense against pathogens including innate immunity, adaptive immunity and programmed cell death (altruistic suicide). Coevolution of these different but interacting defense strategies yields complex evolutionary regimes. Results: We develop and extensively analyze a computational model of coevolution of different defense strategies to show that suicide as a defense mechanism can evolve only in structured populations and when the attainable degree of immunity against pathogens is limited. The general principle of defense evolution seems to be that hosts do not evolve two costly defense mechanisms when one is sufficient. Thus, the evolutionary interplay of innate immunity, adaptive immunity and suicide, leads to an equilibrium state where the combination of all three defense strategies is limited to a distinct, small region of the parameter space. The three strategies can stably coexist only if none of them are highly effective. Coupled adaptive immunity-suicide systems, the existence of which is implied by the colocalization of genes for the two types of defense in prokaryotic genomes, can evolve either when immunity-associated suicide is more efficacious than other suicide systems or when adaptive immunity functionally depends on the associated suicide system. Conclusions: Computational modeling reveals a broad range of outcomes of coevolution of anti-pathogen defense strategies depending on the relative efficacy of different mechanisms and population structure. Some of the predictions of the model appear compatible with recent experimental evolution results and call for additional experiments.
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Background: Drosophila melanogaster often shows correlations between latitude and phenotypic or genetic variation on different continents, which suggests local adaptation with respect to a heterogeneous environment. Previous phenotypic analyses of latitudinal clines have investigated mainly physiological, morphological, or life-history traits. Here, we studied latitudinal variation in sleep in D. melanogaster populations from North and Central America. In parallel, we used RNA-seq to identify interpopulation gene expression differences. Results: We found that in D. melanogaster the average nighttime sleep bout duration exhibits a latitudinal cline such that sleep bouts of equatorial populations are roughly twice as long as those of temperate populations. Interestingly, this pattern of latitudinal variation is not observed for any daytime measure of activity or sleep. We also found evidence for geographic variation for sunrise anticipation. Our RNA-seq experiment carried out on heads from a low and high latitude population identified a large number of gene expression differences, most of which were time dependent. Differentially expressed genes were enriched in circadian regulated genes and enriched in genes potentially under spatially varying selection. Conclusion: Our results are consistent with a mechanistic and selective decoupling of nighttime and daytime activity. Furthermore, the present study suggests that natural selection plays a major role in generating transcriptomic variation associated with circadian behaviors. Finally, we identified genomic variants plausibly causally associated with the observed behavioral and transcriptomic variation.
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Background: Social animals have the unique capability of mounting social defenses against pathogens. Over the last decades, social immunity has been extensively studied in species with obligatory and permanent forms of social life. However, its occurrence in less derived social systems and thus its role in the early evolution of group-living remains unclear. Here, we investigated whether lining nests with feces is a form of social immunity against microbial growth in the European earwig Forficula auricularia, an insect with temporary family life and facultative maternal care. Results: Using a total of 415 inhibition zone assays, we showed that earwig feces inhibit the growth of two GRAM+ bacteria, two fungi, but not of a GRAM- bacteria. These inhibitions did not result from the consumed food or the nesting environment. We then demonstrated that the antimicrobial activity against fungus was higher in offspring than maternal feces, but that this difference was absent against bacteria. Finally, we showed that family interactions inhibited the antibacterial activity of maternal feces against one of the two GRAM+ bacteria, whereas it had no effect on the one of nymphal feces. By contrast, antifungal activities of the feces were independent of mother-offspring interactions. Conclusion: These results demonstrate that social immunity occurs in a species with simple and facultative social life, and thus shed light on the general importance of this process in the evolution of group-living. These results also emphasize that defecation can be under selection for other life-history traits than simple waste disposal.
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Background: Shelled pteropods are planktonic gastropods that are potentially good indicators of the effects of ocean acidification. They also have high potential for the study of zooplankton evolution because they are metazoan plankton with a good fossil record. We investigated phenotypic and genetic variation in pteropods belonging to the genus Cuvierina in relation to their biogeographic distribution across the world’s oceans. We aimed to assess species boundaries and to reconstruct their evolutionary history. Results: We distinguished six morphotypes based on geometric morphometric analyses of shells from 926 museum and 113 fresh specimens. These morphotypes have distinct geographic distributions across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, and belong to three major genetic clades based on COI and 28S DNA sequence data. Using a fossil-calibrated phylogeny, we estimated that these clades separated in the Late Oligocene and Early to Middle Miocene. We found evidence for ecological differentiation among all morphotypes based on ecological niche modelling with sea surface temperature, salinity and phytoplankton biomass as primary determinants. Across all analyses, we found highly congruent patterns of differentiation suggesting species level divergences between morphotypes. However, we also found distinct morphotypes (e.g. in the Atlantic Ocean) that were ecologically, but not genetically differentiated. Conclusions: Given the distinct ecological and phenotypic specializations found among both described and undescribed Cuvierina taxa, they may not respond equally to future ocean changes and may not be equally sensitive to ocean acidification. Our findings support the view that ecological differentiation may be an important driving force in the speciation of zooplankton.

March 11, 2015

18:00
Background: During the speciation process several types of isolating barriers can arise that limit gene flow between diverging populations. Studying recently isolated species can inform our understanding of how and when these barriers arise, and which barriers may be most important to limiting gene flow. Here we focus on Drosophila suboccidentalis and D. occidentalis, which are closely related mushroom-feeding species that inhabit western North America and are not known to overlap in geographic range. We investigate patterns of reproductive isolation between these species, including premating, postmating prezygotic, and postzygotic barriers to gene flow. Results: Using flies that originate from a single population of each species, we find that the strength of premating sexual isolation between these species is asymmetric: while D. occidentalis females mate with D. suboccidentalis males at a reduced but moderate rate, D. suboccidentalis females discriminate strongly against mating with D. occidentalis males. Female hybrids will mate at high rates with males of either species, indicating that this discrimination has a recessive genetic basis. Hybrid males are accepted by females of both species. We do not find evidence for postmating prezygotic or postzygotic isolating barriers, as females use the sperm of heterospecific males and both male and female hybrids are fully fertile. Conclusions: Premating isolation is substantial but incomplete, and appears to be the primary form of reproductive isolation between these species. If these species do hybridize, the lack of postzygotic barriers may allow for gene flow between them. Given that these species are recently diverged and are not known to be sympatric, the level of premating isolation is relatively strong given the lack of intrinsic post-zygotic isolation. Further work is necessary to characterize the geographic and genetic variation in reproductive isolating barriers, as well as to determine the factors that drive reproductive isolation and the consequences that isolating barriers as well as geographic isolation have had on patterns of gene flow between these species.

March 10, 2015

18:00
Background: Genetic analyses of DNA sequences make use of an increasingly complex set of nucleotide substitution models to estimate the divergence between gene sequences. However, there is currently no way to assess the validity of nucleotide substitution models over short time-scales and with limited mutational accumulation. Results: We show that quantifying the decline in the ratio of transitions to transversions (ti/tv) over time provides an in-built measure of mutational saturation and hence of substitution model accuracy. We tested this through detailed phylogenetic analyses of 10 representative virus data sets comprising recently sampled and closely related sequences. In the majority of cases our estimates of ti/tv decrease with time, even under sophisticated time-reversible models of nucleotide substitution. This indicates that high levels of saturation are attained extremely rapidly in viruses, sometimes within decades. In contrast, we did not find any temporal patterns in selection pressures or CG-content over these short time-frames. To validate the temporal trend of ti/tv across a broader taxonomic range, we analyzed a set of 76 different viruses. Again, the estimate of ti/tv scaled negatively with evolutionary time, a trend that was more pronounced for rapidly-evolving RNA viruses than slowly-evolving DNA viruses. Conclusions: Our study shows that commonly used substitution models can underestimate the number of substitutions among closely related sequences, such that the time-scale of viral evolution and emergence may be systematically underestimated. In turn, estimates of ti/tv provide an effective internal control of substitution model performance in viruses because of their high sensitivity to mutational saturation.
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Background: Chromosomal rearrangements are a major driving force in shaping genome during evolution. Previous studies show that translocated genes could undergo elevated rates of evolution and recombination frequencies around these genes can be altered. Based on the recently released genome sequences of Triticum urartu, Aegilops tauschii, Brachypodium distachyon and bread wheat, an analysis of interchromosomal translocations in the hexaploid wheat genotype ‘Chinese Spring’ (‘CS’) was conducted based on chromosome shotgun sequences from individual chromosome arms of this genotype. Results: A total of 720 genes representing putative interchromosomal rearrangements was identified. They were distributed across the 42 chromosome arms. About 59% of these translocated genes were those involved in the well-characterized translocations involving chromosomes 4A, 5A and 7B. The other 41% of the genes represent a large numbers of putative interchromosomal rearrangements which have not yet been described. The number of the putative translocation events in the D subgenome was about half of those presented in either the A or B subgenomes, which agreed well with that the times of interaction between the A and B subgenomes almost doubled that between either of them and the D subgenome. Conclusions: The possible existence of a large number of interchromosomal rearrangements detected in this study provide further evidence that caution should be taken when using synteny in ordering sequence contigs or in cloning genes in hexaploid wheat. The identification of these putative translocations in ‘CS’ also provide a base for a systematic evaluation of their presence or absence in the full spectrum of bread wheat and its close relatives, which could have significant implications in a wide array of fields ranging from studies of systematics and evolution to practical breeding.