Molecular Biology and Evolution

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42 min 26 sec ago

August 19, 2015

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Spliceosomal introns are a hallmark of eukaryotic genes that are hypothesized to play important roles in genome evolution but have poorly understood origins. Although most introns lack sequence homology to each other, new families of spliceosomal introns that are repeated hundreds of times in individual genomes have recently been discovered in a few organisms. The prevalence and conservation of these introner elements (IEs) or introner-like elements in other taxa, as well as their evolutionary relationships to regular spliceosomal introns, are still unknown. Here, we systematically investigate introns in the widespread marine green alga Micromonas and report new families of IEs, numerous intron presence–absence polymorphisms, and potential intron insertion hot-spots. The new families enabled identification of conserved IE secondary structure features and establishment of a novel general model for repetitive intron proliferation across genomes. Despite shared secondary structure, the IE families from each Micromonas lineage bear no obvious sequence similarity to those in the other lineages, suggesting that their appearance is intimately linked with the process of speciation. Two of the new IE families come from an Arctic culture (Micromonas Clade E2) isolated from a polar region where abundance of this alga is increasing due to climate induced changes. The same two families were detected in metagenomic data from Antarctica—a system where Micromonas has never before been reported. Strikingly high identity between the Arctic isolate and Antarctic coding sequences that flank the IEs suggests connectivity between populations in the two polar systems that we postulate occurs through deep-sea currents. Recovery of Clade E2 sequences in North Atlantic Deep Waters beneath the Gulf Stream supports this hypothesis. Our research illuminates the dynamic relationships between an unusual class of repetitive introns, genome evolution, speciation, and global distribution of this sentinel marine alga.

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Cellular Ca2+ homeostasis is tightly regulated and is pivotal to life. Inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptors (IP3Rs) and ryanodine receptors (RyRs) are the major ion channels that regulate Ca2+ release from intracellular stores. Although these channels have been extensively investigated in multicellular organisms, an appreciation of their evolution and the biology of orthologs in unicellular organisms is largely lacking. Extensive phylogenetic analyses reveal that the IP3R gene superfamily is ancient and diverged into two subfamilies, IP3R-A and IP3R-B/RyR, at the dawn of Opisthokonta. IP3R-B/RyR further diversified into IP3R-B and RyR at the stem of Filozoa. Subsequent evolution and speciation of Holozoa is associated with duplication of IP3R-A and RyR genes, and loss of IP3R-B in the vertebrate lineages. To gain insight into the properties of IP3R important for the challenges of multicellularity, the IP3R-A and IP3R-B family orthologs were cloned from Capsaspora owczarzaki, a close unicellular relative to Metazoa (designated as CO.IP3R-A and CO.IP3R-B). Both proteins were targeted to the endoplasmic reticulum. However, CO.IP3R-A, but strikingly not CO.IP3R-B, bound IP3, exhibited robust Ca2+ release activity and associated with mammalian IP3Rs. These data indicate strongly that CO.IP3R-A as an exemplar of ancestral IP3R-A orthologs forms bona fide IP3-gated channels. Notably, however, CO.IP3R-A appears not to be regulated by Ca2+, ATP or Protein kinase A-phosphorylation. Collectively, our findings explore the origin, conservation, and diversification of IP3R gene families and provide insight into the functionality of ancestral IP3Rs and the added specialization of these proteins in Metazoa.

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Marriage rules, the community prescriptions that dictate who an individual can or cannot marry, are extremely diverse and universally present in traditional societies. A major focus of research in the early decades of modern anthropology, marriage rules impose social and economic forces that help structure societies and forge connections between them. However, in those early anthropological studies, the biological benefits or disadvantages of marriage rules could not be determined. We revisit this question by applying a novel simulation framework and genome-wide data to explore the effects of Asymmetric Prescriptive Alliance, an elaborate set of marriage rules that has been a focus of research for many anthropologists. Simulations show that strict adherence to these marriage rules reduces genetic diversity on the autosomes, X chromosome and mitochondrial DNA, but relaxed compliance produces genetic diversity similar to random mating. Genome-wide data from the Indonesian community of Rindi, one of the early study populations for Asymmetric Prescriptive Alliance, are more consistent with relaxed compliance than strict adherence. We therefore suggest that, in practice, marriage rules are treated with sufficient flexibility to allow social connectivity without significant degradation of biological diversity.

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The high regulatory complexity of vertebrates has been related to two rounds of whole genome duplication (2R-WGD) that occurred before the divergence of the major vertebrate groups. Following these events, many developmental transcription factors (TFs) were retained in multiple copies and subsequently specialized in diverse functions, whereas others reverted to their singleton state. TFs are known to be generally rich in amino acid repeats or low-complexity regions (LCRs), such as polyalanine or polyglutamine runs, which can evolve rapidly and potentially influence the transcriptional activity of the protein. Here we test the hypothesis that LCRs have played a major role in the diversification of TF gene duplicates. We find that nearly half of the TF gene families originated during the 2R-WGD contains LCRs. The number of gene duplicates with LCRs is 155 out of 550 analyzed (28%), about twice as many as the number of single copy genes with LCRs (15 out of 115, 13%). In addition, duplicated TFs preferentially accumulate certain LCR types, the most prominent of which are alanine repeats. We experimentally test the role of alanine-rich LCRs in two different TF gene families, PHOX2A/PHOX2B and LHX2/LHX9. In both cases, the presence of the alanine-rich LCR in one of the copies (PHOX2B and LHX2) significantly increases the capacity of the TF to activate transcription. Taken together, the results provide strong evidence that LCRs are important driving forces of evolutionary change in duplicated genes.

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For populations to maintain optimal fitness, harmful mutations must be efficiently purged from the genome. Yet, under circumstances that diminish the effectiveness of natural selection, such as the process of plant and animal domestication, deleterious mutations are predicted to accumulate. Here, we compared the load of deleterious mutations in 21 accessions from natural populations and 19 domesticated accessions of the common sunflower using whole-transcriptome single nucleotide polymorphism data. Although we find that genetic diversity has been greatly reduced during domestication, the remaining mutations were disproportionally biased toward nonsynonymous substitutions. Bioinformatically predicted deleterious mutations affecting protein function were especially strongly over-represented. We also identify similar patterns in two other domesticated species of the sunflower family (globe artichoke and cardoon), indicating that this phenomenon is not due to idiosyncrasies of sunflower domestication or the sunflower genome. Finally, we provide unequivocal evidence that deleterious mutations accumulate in low recombining regions of the genome, due to the reduced efficacy of purifying selection. These results represent a conundrum for crop improvement efforts. Although the elimination of harmful mutations should be a long-term goal of plant and animal breeding programs, it will be difficult to weed them out because of limited recombination.

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Environmental control of flowering allows plant reproduction to occur under optimal conditions and facilitates adaptation to different locations. At high latitude, flowering of many plants is controlled by seasonal changes in day length. The photoperiodic flowering pathway confers this response in the Brassicaceae, which colonized temperate latitudes after divergence from the Cleomaceae, their subtropical sister family. The CONSTANS (CO) transcription factor of Arabidopsis thaliana, a member of the Brassicaceae, is central to the photoperiodic flowering response and shows characteristic patterns of transcription required for day-length sensing. CO is believed to be widely conserved among flowering plants; however, we show that it arose after gene duplication at the root of the Brassicaceae followed by divergence of transcriptional regulation and protein function. CO has two close homologs, CONSTANS-LIKE1 (COL1) and COL2, which are related to CO by tandem duplication and whole-genome duplication, respectively. The single CO homolog present in the Cleomaceae shows transcriptional and functional features similar to those of COL1 and COL2, suggesting that these were ancestral. We detect cis-regulatory and codon changes characteristic of CO and use transgenic assays to demonstrate their significance in the day-length-dependent activation of the CO target gene FLOWERING LOCUS T. Thus, the function of CO as a potent photoperiodic flowering switch evolved in the Brassicaceae after gene duplication. The origin of CO may have contributed to the range expansion of the Brassicaceae and suggests that in other families CO genes involved in photoperiodic flowering arose by convergent evolution.

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In spite of the growth of molecular ecology, systematics and next-generation sequencing, the discovery and analysis of diversity is not currently integrated with building the tree-of-life. Tropical arthropod ecologists are well placed to accelerate this process if all specimens obtained through mass-trapping, many of which will be new species, could be incorporated routinely into phylogeny reconstruction. Here we test a shotgun sequencing approach, whereby mitochondrial genomes are assembled from complex ecological mixtures through mitochondrial metagenomics, and demonstrate how the approach overcomes many of the taxonomic impediments to the study of biodiversity. DNA from approximately 500 beetle specimens, originating from a single rainforest canopy fogging sample from Borneo, was pooled and shotgun sequenced, followed by de novo assembly of complete and partial mitogenomes for 175 species. The phylogenetic tree obtained from this local sample was highly similar to that from existing mitogenomes selected for global coverage of major lineages of Coleoptera. When all sequences were combined only minor topological changes were induced against this reference set, indicating an increasingly stable estimate of coleopteran phylogeny, while the ecological sample expanded the tip-level representation of several lineages. Robust trees generated from ecological samples now enable an evolutionary framework for ecology. Meanwhile, the inclusion of uncharacterized samples in the tree-of-life rapidly expands taxon and biogeographic representation of lineages without morphological identification. Mitogenomes from shotgun sequencing of unsorted environmental samples and their associated metadata, placed robustly into the phylogenetic tree, constitute novel DNA "superbarcodes" for testing hypotheses regarding global patterns of diversity.

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How populations that inhabit the same geographical area become genetically differentiated is not clear. To investigate this, we characterized phenotypic and genetic differences between two populations of Saccharomyces cerevisiae that in some cases inhabit the same environment but show relatively little gene flow. We profiled stress sensitivity in a group of vineyard isolates and a group of oak-soil strains and found several niche-related phenotypes that distinguish the populations. We performed bulk-segregant mapping on two of the distinguishing traits: The vineyard-specific ability to grow in grape juice and oak-specific tolerance to the cell wall damaging drug Congo red. To implicate causal genes, we also performed a chemical genomic screen in the lab-strain deletion collection and identified many important genes that fell under quantitative trait loci peaks. One gene important for growth in grape juice and identified by both the mapping and the screen was SSU1, a sulfite-nitrite pump implicated in wine fermentations. The beneficial allele is generated by a known translocation that we reasoned may also serve as a genetic barrier. We found that the translocation is prevalent in vineyard strains, but absent in oak strains, and presents a postzygotic barrier to spore viability. Furthermore, the translocation was associated with a fitness cost to the rapid growth rate seen in oak-soil strains. Our results reveal the translocation as a dual-function locus that enforces ecological differentiation while producing a genetic barrier to gene flow in these sympatric populations.

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Contrasting with birds and mammals, poikilothermic vertebrates often have homomorphic sex chromosomes, possibly resulting from high rates of sex-chromosome turnovers and/or occasional X–Y recombination. Strong support for the latter mechanism was provided by four species of European tree frogs, which inherited from a common ancestor (~5 Ma) the same pair of homomorphic sex chromosomes (linkage group 1, LG1), harboring the candidate sex-determining gene Dmrt1. Here, we test sex linkage of LG1 across six additional species of the Eurasian Hyla radiation with divergence times ranging from 6 to 40 Ma. LG1 turns out to be sex linked in six of nine resolved cases. Mapping the patterns of sex linkage to the Hyla phylogeny reveals several transitions in sex-determination systems within the last 10 My, including one switch in heterogamety. Phylogenetic trees of DNA sequences along LG1 are consistent with occasional X–Y recombination in all species where LG1 is sex linked. These patterns argue against one of the main potential causes for turnovers, namely the accumulation of deleterious mutations on nonrecombining chromosomes. Sibship analyses show that LG1 recombination is strongly reduced in males from most species investigated, including some in which it is autosomal. Intrinsically low male recombination might facilitate the evolution of male heterogamety, and the presence of important genes from the sex-determination cascade might predispose LG1 to become a sex chromosome.

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Studies of species with continental distributions continue to identify intraspecific lineages despite continuous habitat. Lineages may form due to isolation by distance, adaptation, divergence across barriers, or genetic drift following range expansion. We investigated lineage diversification and admixture within American black bears (Ursus americanus) across their range using 22 k single nucleotide polymorphisms and mitochondrial DNA sequences. We identified three subcontinental nuclear clusters which we further divided into nine geographic regions: Alaskan (Alaska-East), eastern (Central Interior Highlands, Great Lakes, Northeast, Southeast), and western (Alaska-West, West, Pacific Coast, Southwest). We estimated that the western cluster diverged 67 ka, before eastern and Alaskan divergence 31 ka; these divergence dates contrasted with those from the mitochondrial genome where clades A and B diverged 1.07 Ma, and clades A-east and A-west diverged 169 ka. We combined estimates of divergence timing with hindcast species distribution models to infer glacial refugia for the species in Beringia, Pacific Northwest, Southwest, and Southeast. Our results show a complex arrangement of admixture due to expansion out of multiple refugia. The delineation of the genomic population clusters was inconsistent with the ranges for 16 previously described subspecies. Ranges for U. a. pugnax and U. a. cinnamomum were concordant with admixed clusters, calling into question how to order taxa below the species level. Additionally, our finding that U. a. floridanus has not diverged from U. a. americanus also suggests that morphology and genetics should be reanalyzed to assess taxonomic designations relevant to the conservation management of the species.

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Polyploidy provides evolutionary and morphological novelties in many plants and some animals. However, the role of genome dosage and composition in gene expression changes remains poorly understood. Here, we generated a series of resynthesized Arabidopsis tetraploids that contain 0–4 copies of Arabidopsis thaliana and Arabidopsis arenosa genomes and investigated ploidy and hybridity effects on gene expression. Allelic expression can be defined as dosage dependent (expression levels correlate with genome dosages) or otherwise as dosage independent. Here, we show that many dosage-dependent genes contribute to cell cycle, photosynthesis, and metabolism, whereas dosage-independent genes are enriched in biotic and abiotic stress responses. Interestingly, dosage-dependent genes tend to be preserved in ancient biochemical pathways present in both plant and nonplant species, whereas many dosage-independent genes belong to plant-specific pathways. This is confirmed by an independent analysis using Arabidopsis phylostratigraphic map. For A. thaliana loci, the dosage-dependent alleles are devoid of TEs and tend to correlate with H3K9ac, H3K4me3, and CG methylation, whereas the majority of dosage-independent alleles are enriched with TEs and correspond to H3K27me1, H3K27me3, and CHG (H = A, T, or C) methylation. Furthermore, there is a parent-of-origin effect on nonadditively expressed genes in the reciprocal allotetraploids especially when A. arenosa is used as the pollen donor, leading to metabolic and morphological changes. Thus, ploidy, epigenetic modifications, and cytoplasmic-nuclear interactions shape gene expression diversity in polyploids. Dosage-dependent expression can maintain growth and developmental stability, whereas dosage-independent expression can facilitate functional divergence between homeologs (subfunctionalization and/or neofunctionalization) during polyploid evolution.

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Long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) are important developmental regulators in bilaterian animals. A correlation has been claimed between the lncRNA repertoire expansion and morphological complexity in vertebrate evolution. However, this claim has not been tested by examining morphologically simple animals. Here, we undertake a systematic investigation of lncRNAs in the demosponge Amphimedon queenslandica, a morphologically simple, early-branching metazoan. We combine RNA-Seq data across multiple developmental stages of Amphimedon with a filtering pipeline to conservatively predict 2,935 lncRNAs. These include intronic overlapping lncRNAs, exonic antisense overlapping lncRNAs, long intergenic nonprotein coding RNAs, and precursors for small RNAs. Sponge lncRNAs are remarkably similar to their bilaterian counterparts in being relatively short with few exons and having low primary sequence conservation relative to protein-coding genes. As in bilaterians, a majority of sponge lncRNAs exhibit typical hallmarks of regulatory molecules, including high temporal specificity and dynamic developmental expression. Specific lncRNA expression profiles correlate tightly with conserved protein-coding genes likely involved in a range of developmental and physiological processes, such as the Wnt signaling pathway. Although the majority of Amphimedon lncRNAs appears to be taxonomically restricted with no identifiable orthologs, we find a few cases of conservation between demosponges in lncRNAs that are antisense to coding sequences. Based on the high similarity in the structure, organization, and dynamic expression of sponge lncRNAs to their bilaterian counterparts, we propose that these noncoding RNAs are an ancient feature of the metazoan genome. These results are consistent with lncRNAs regulating the development of animals, regardless of their level of morphological complexity.

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Deinococcus bacteria are extremely resistant to radiation, oxidation, and desiccation. Resilience to these factors has been suggested to be due to enhanced damage prevention and repair mechanisms, as well as highly efficient antioxidant protection systems. Here, using mutation-accumulation experiments, we find that the GC-rich Deinococcus radiodurans has an overall background genomic mutation rate similar to that of E. coli, but differs in mutation spectrum, with the A/T to G/C mutation rate (based on a total count of 88 A:T->G:C transitions and 82 A:T->C:G transversions) per site per generation higher than that in the other direction (based on a total count of 157 G:C->A:T transitions and 33 G:C->T:A transversions). We propose that this unique spectrum is shaped mainly by the abundant uracil DNA glycosylases reducing G:C->A:T transitions, adenine methylation elevating A:T->C:G transversions, and absence of cytosine methylation decreasing G:C->A:T transitions. As opposed to the greater than 100x elevation of the mutation rate in MMR– (DNA Mismatch Repair deficient) strains of most other organisms, MMR– D. radiodurans only exhibits a 4-fold elevation, raising the possibility that other DNA repair mechanisms compensate for a relatively low-efficiency DNA MMR pathway. As D. radiodurans has plentiful insertion sequence (IS) elements in the genome and the activities of IS elements are rarely directly explored, we also estimated the insertion (transposition) rate of the IS elements to be 2.50 x 10–3 per genome per generation in the wild-type strain; knocking out MMR did not elevate the IS element insertion rate in this organism.

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The environment has profound effects on the expression of many traits and reaction norms describe the expression dynamics of a trait across a broad range of environmental conditions. Here, we analyze gene expression in Drosophila melanogaster across four different developmental temperatures (13–29 °C). Gene expression is highly plastic with 83.3% of the genes being differentially expressed. We distinguished three components of plasticity: 1) Dynamics of gene expression intensity (sum of change), 2) direction of change, and 3) curvature of the reaction norm (linear vs. quadratic). Studying their regulatory architecture we found that all three plasticity components were most strongly affected by the number of different transcription factors (TFs) binding to the target gene. More TFs were found in genes with less expression changes across temperatures. Although the effect of microRNAs was weaker, we consistently noted a trend in the opposite direction. The most plastic genes were regulated by fewer TFs and more microRNAs than less plastic genes. Different patterns of plasticity were also reflected by their functional characterization based on gene ontology. Our results suggest that reaction norms provide an important key to understand the functional requirements of natural populations exposed to variable environmental conditions.

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Because mating systems affect population genetics and ecology, they are expected to impact the molecular evolution of species. Self-fertilizing species experience reduced effective population size, recombination rates, and heterozygosity, which in turn should decrease the efficacy of natural selection, both adaptive and purifying, and the strength of meiotic drive processes such as GC-biased gene conversion. The empirical evidence is only partly congruent with these predictions, depending on the analyzed species, some, but not all, of the expected effects have been observed. One possible reason is that self-fertilization is an evolutionary dead-end, so that most current selfers recently evolved self-fertilization, and their genome has not yet been strongly impacted by selfing. Here, we investigate the molecular evolution of two groups of freshwater snails in which mating systems have likely been stable for several millions of years. Analyzing coding sequence polymorphism, divergence, and expression levels, we report a strongly reduced genetic diversity, decreased efficacy of purifying selection, slower rate of adaptive evolution, and weakened codon usage bias/GC-biased gene conversion in the selfer Galba compared with the outcrosser Physa, in full agreement with theoretical expectations. Our results demonstrate that self-fertilization, when effective in the long run, is a major driver of population genomic and molecular evolutionary processes. Despite the genomic effects of selfing, Galba truncatula seems to escape the demographic consequences of the genetic load. We suggest that the particular ecology of the species may buffer the negative consequences of selfing, shedding new light on the dead-end hypothesis.

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Understanding the genetic and molecular bases of the ability to distinguish self from nonself (allorecognition) and mechanisms underlying evolution of allorecognition systems is an important endeavor for understanding cases where it becomes dysfunctional, such as in autoimmune disorders. In filamentous fungi, allorecognition can result in vegetative or heterokaryon incompatibility, which is a type of programmed cell death that occurs following fusion of genetically different cells. Allorecognition is genetically controlled by het loci, with coexpression of any combination of incompatible alleles triggering vegetative incompatibility. Herein, we identified, characterized, and inferred the evolutionary history of candidate het loci in the filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa. As characterized het loci encode proteins carrying an HET domain, we annotated HET domain genes in 25 isolates from a natural population along with the N. crassa reference genome using resequencing data. Because allorecognition systems can be affected by frequency-dependent selection favoring rare alleles (i.e., balancing selection), we mined resequencing data for HET domain loci whose alleles displayed elevated levels of variability, excess of intermediate frequency alleles, and deep gene genealogies. From these analyses, 34 HET domain loci were identified as likely to be under balancing selection. Using transformation, incompatibility assays and genetic analyses, we determined that one of these candidates functioned as a het locus (het-e). The het-e locus has three divergent allelic groups that showed signatures of positive selection, intra- and intergroup recombination, and trans-species polymorphism. Our findings represent a compelling case of balancing selection functioning on multiple alleles across multiple loci potentially involved in allorecognition.