Molecular Biology and Evolution

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August 19, 2014

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For sequences that are highly divergent, there is often insufficient information to infer accurate alignments, and phylogenetic uncertainty may be high. One way to address this issue is to make use of protein structural information, since structures generally diverge more slowly than sequences. In this work, we extend a recently developed stochastic model of pairwise structural evolution to multiple structures on a tree, analytically integrating over ancestral structures to permit efficient likelihood computations under the resulting joint sequence–structure model. We observe that the inclusion of structural information significantly reduces alignment and topology uncertainty, and reduces the number of topology and alignment errors in cases where the true trees and alignments are known. In some cases, the inclusion of structure results in changes to the consensus topology, indicating that structure may contain additional information beyond that which can be obtained from sequences. We use the model to investigate the order of divergence of cytoglobins, myoglobins, and hemoglobins and observe a stabilization of phylogenetic inference: although a sequence-based inference assigns significant posterior probability to several different topologies, the structural model strongly favors one of these over the others and is more robust to the choice of data set.

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Partially recessive variants under positive selection are expected to go to fixation more quickly on the X chromosome as a result of hemizygosity, an effect known as faster-X. Conversely, purifying selection is expected to reduce substitution rates more effectively on the X chromosome. Previous work in humans contrasted divergence on the autosomes and X chromosome, with results tending to support the faster-X effect. However, no study has yet incorporated both divergence and polymorphism to quantify the effects of both purifying and positive selection, which are opposing forces with respect to divergence. In this study, we develop a framework that integrates previously developed theory addressing differential rates of X and autosomal evolution with methods that jointly estimate the level of purifying and positive selection via modeling of the distribution of fitness effects (DFE). We then utilize this framework to estimate the proportion of nonsynonymous substitutions fixed by positive selection (α) using exome sequence data from a West African population. We find that varying the female to male breeding ratio (β) has minimal impact on the DFE for the X chromosome, especially when compared with the effect of varying the dominance coefficient of deleterious alleles (h). Estimates of α range from 46% to 51% and from 4% to 24% for the X chromosome and autosomes, respectively. While dependent on h, the magnitude of the difference between α values estimated for these two systems is highly statistically significant over a range of biologically realistic parameter values, suggesting faster-X has been operating in humans.

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Gene expression varies widely in natural populations, yet the proximate and ultimate causes of this variation are poorly known. Understanding how variation in gene expression affects abiotic stress tolerance, fitness, and adaptation is central to the field of evolutionary genetics. We tested the hypothesis that genes with natural genetic variation in their expression responses to abiotic stress are likely to be involved in local adaptation to climate in Arabidopsis thaliana. Specifically, we compared genes with consistent expression responses to environmental stress (expression stress responsive, "eSR") to genes with genetically variable responses to abiotic stress (expression genotype-by-environment interaction, "eGEI"). We found that on average genes that exhibited eGEI in response to drought or cold had greater polymorphism in promoter regions and stronger associations with climate than those of eSR genes or genomic controls. We also found that transcription factor binding sites known to respond to environmental stressors, especially abscisic acid responsive elements, showed significantly higher polymorphism in drought eGEI genes in comparison to eSR genes. By contrast, eSR genes tended to exhibit relatively greater pairwise haplotype sharing, lower promoter diversity, and fewer nonsynonymous polymorphisms, suggesting purifying selection or selective sweeps. Our results indicate that cis-regulatory evolution and genetic variation in stress responsive gene expression may be important mechanisms of local adaptation to climatic selective gradients.

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The mechanisms underlying natural phenotypic diversity are key to understanding evolution and speciation. Cichlid fishes are among the most speciose vertebrates and an ideal model for identifying genes controlling species differences. Cichlids have diverse visual sensitivities that result from species expressing subsets of seven cichlid cone opsin genes. We previously identified a quantitative trait locus (QTL) that tunes visual sensitivity by varying SWS2A (short wavelength sensitive 2A) opsin expression in a genetic cross between two Lake Malawi cichlid species. Here, we identify Rx1 (retinal and anterior neural fold homeobox) as the causative gene for the QTL using fine mapping and RNAseq in retinal transcriptomes. Rx1 is differentially expressed between the parental species and correlated with SWS2A expression in the F2 progeny. Expression of Rx1 and SWS2A is also correlated in a panel of 16 Lake Malawi cichlid species. Association mapping in this panel identified a 413-bp deletion located 2.5-kb upstream of the Rx1 translation start site that is correlated with decreased Rx1 expression. This deletion explains 62% of the variance in SWS2A expression across 53 cichlid species in 29 genera. The deletion occurs in both the sand and rock-dwelling cichlid clades, suggesting that it is an ancestral polymorphism. Our finding supports the hypothesis that mixing and matching of ancestral polymorphisms can explain the diversity of present day cichlid phenotypes.

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Uncovering how a new gene acquires its function and understanding how the function of a new gene influences existing genetic networks are important topics in evolutionary biology. Here, we demonstrate nonconservation for the embryonic functions of Drosophila Bonus and its newest vertebrate relative TIF1-/TRIM33. We showed previously that TIF1-/TRIM33 functions as an ubiquitin ligase for the Smad4 signal transducer and antagonizes the Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) signaling network underlying vertebrate dorsal–ventral axis formation. Here, we show that Bonus functions as an agonist of the Decapentaplegic (Dpp) signaling network underlying dorsal–ventral axis formation in flies. The absence of conservation for the roles of Bonus and TIF1-/TRIM33 reveals a shift in the dorsal–ventral patterning networks of flies and mice, systems that were previously considered wholly conserved. The shift occurred when the new gene TIF1-/TRIM33 replaced the function of the ubiquitin ligase Nedd4L in the lineage leading to vertebrates. Evidence of this replacement is our demonstration that Nedd4 performs the function of TIF1-/TRIM33 in flies during dorsal–ventral axis formation. The replacement allowed vertebrate Nedd4L to acquire novel functions as a ubiquitin ligase of vertebrate-specific Smad proteins. Overall our data reveal that the architecture of the Dpp/BMP dorsal–ventral patterning network continued to evolve in the vertebrate lineage, after separation from flies, via the incorporation of new genes.

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Marsupials exhibit great diversity in ecology and morphology. However, compared with their sister group, the placental mammals, our understanding of many aspects of marsupial evolution remains limited. We use 101 mitochondrial genomes and data from 26 nuclear loci to reconstruct a dated phylogeny including 97% of extant genera and 58% of modern marsupial species. This tree allows us to analyze the evolution of habitat preference and geographic distributions of marsupial species through time. We found a pattern of mesic-adapted lineages evolving to use more arid and open habitats, which is broadly consistent with regional climate and environmental change. However, contrary to the general trend, several lineages subsequently appear to have reverted from drier to more mesic habitats. Biogeographic reconstructions suggest that current views on the connectivity between Australia and New Guinea/Wallacea during the Miocene and Pliocene need to be revised. The antiquity of several endemic New Guinean clades strongly suggests a substantially older period of connection stretching back to the Middle Miocene and implies that New Guinea was colonized by multiple clades almost immediately after its principal formation.

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Inversions are an integral part of structural variation within species, and they play a leading role in genome reorganization across species. Work at both the cytological and genome sequence levels has revealed heterogeneity in the distribution of inversion breakpoints, with some regions being recurrently used. Breakpoint reuse at the molecular level has mostly been assessed for fixed inversions through genome sequence comparison, and therefore rather broadly. Here, we have identified and sequenced the breakpoints of two polymorphic inversions—E1 and E2 that share a breakpoint—in the extant Est and E1+2 chromosomal arrangements of Drosophila subobscura. The breakpoints are two medium-sized repeated motifs that mediated the inversions by two different mechanisms: E1 via staggered breaks and subsequent repair and E2 via repeat-mediated ectopic recombination. The fine delimitation of the shared breakpoint revealed its strict reuse at the molecular level regardless of which was the intermediate arrangement. The occurrence of other rearrangements in the most proximal and distal extended breakpoint regions reveals the broad reuse of these regions. This differential degree of fragility might be related to their sharing the presence outside the inverted region of snoRNA-encoding genes.

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Reconstructing the evolution and ancestral functions of synaptic proteins promises to shed light on how neurons first evolved. The postsynaptic density (PSD) protein Homer scaffolds membrane receptors and regulates Ca2+ signaling in diverse metazoan cell types (including neurons and muscle cells), yet its ancestry and core functions are poorly understood. We find that the protein domain organization and essential biochemical properties of metazoan Homer proteins, including their ability to tetramerize, are conserved in the choanoflagellate Salpingoeca rosetta, one of the closest living relatives of metazoans. Unlike in neurons, Homer localizes to the nucleoplasm in S. rosetta and interacts directly with Flotillin, a protein more commonly associated with cell membranes. Surprisingly, we found that the Homer/Flotillin interaction and its localization to the nucleus are conserved in metazoan astrocytes. These findings suggest that Homer originally interacted with Flotillin in the nucleus of the last common ancestor of metazoans and choanoflagellates and was later co-opted to function as a membrane receptor scaffold in the PSD.

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Herpesviruses have been infecting and codiverging with their vertebrate hosts for hundreds of millions of years. The primate simplex viruses exemplify this pattern of virus–host codivergence, at a minimum, as far back as the most recent common ancestor of New World monkeys, Old World monkeys, and apes. Humans are the only primate species known to be infected with two distinct herpes simplex viruses: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Human herpes simplex viruses are ubiquitous, with over two-thirds of the human population infected by at least one virus. Here, we investigated whether the additional human simplex virus is the result of ancient viral lineage duplication or cross-species transmission. We found that standard phylogenetic models of nucleotide substitution are inadequate for distinguishing among these competing hypotheses; the extent of synonymous substitutions causes a substantial underestimation of the lengths of some of the branches in the phylogeny, consistent with observations in other viruses (e.g., avian influenza, Ebola, and coronaviruses). To more accurately estimate ancient viral divergence times, we applied a branch-site random effects likelihood model of molecular evolution that allows the strength of natural selection to vary across both the viral phylogeny and the gene alignment. This selection-informed model favored a scenario in which HSV-1 is the result of ancient codivergence and HSV-2 arose from a cross-species transmission event from the ancestor of modern chimpanzees to an extinct Homo precursor of modern humans, around 1.6 Ma. These results provide a new framework for understanding human herpes simplex virus evolution and demonstrate the importance of using selection-informed models of sequence evolution when investigating viral origin hypotheses.

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Cancer/testis (CT) antigens are encoded by germline genes and are aberrantly expressed in a number of human cancers. Interestingly, CT antigens are frequently involved in gene families that are highly expressed in germ cells. Here, we presented an evolutionary analysis of the CTAGE (cutaneous T-cell-lymphoma-associated antigen) gene family to delineate its molecular history and functional significance during primate evolution. Comparisons among human, chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, macaque, marmoset, and other mammals show a rapid and primate specific expansion of CTAGE family, which starts with an ancestral retroposition in the haplorhini ancestor. Subsequent DNA-based duplications lead to the prosperity of single-exon CTAGE copies in catarrhines, especially in humans. Positive selection was identified on the single-exon copies in comparison with functional constraint on the multiexon copies. Further sequence analysis suggests that the newly derived CTAGE genes may obtain regulatory elements from long terminal repeats. Our result indicates the dynamic evolution of primate genomes, and the recent expansion of this CT antigen family in humans may confer advantageous phenotypic traits during early human evolution.

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Plastids utilize a complex gene expression machinery, which has coevolved with the underlying genome sequence. Relatively, little is known about the genome-wide evolution of transcript processing in algal plastids that have undergone complex endosymbiotic events. We present the first genome-wide study of transcript processing in a plastid acquired through serial endosymbiosis, in the fucoxanthin-containing dinoflagellate Karlodinium veneficum. The fucoxanthin dinoflagellate plastid has an extremely divergent genome and utilizes two unusual transcript processing pathways, 3'-poly(U) tail addition and sequence editing, which were acquired following the serial endosymbiosis event. We demonstrate that poly(U) addition and sequence editing are widespread features across the Karl. veneficum plastid transcriptome, whereas other dinoflagellate plastid lineages that have arisen through independent serial endosymbiosis events do not utilize either RNA processing pathway. These pathways constrain the effects of divergent sequence evolution in fucoxanthin plastids, for example by correcting mutations in the genomic sequence that would otherwise be deleterious, and are specifically associated with transcripts that encode functional plastid proteins over transcripts of recently generated pseudogenes. These pathways may have additionally facilitated divergent evolution within the Karl. veneficum plastid. Transcript editing, for example, has contributed to the evolution of a novel C-terminal sequence extension on the Karl. veneficum AtpA protein. We furthermore provide the first complete sequence of an episomal minicircle in a fucoxanthin dinoflagellate plastid, which contains the dnaK gene, and gives rise to polyuridylylated and edited transcripts. Our results indicate that RNA processing in fucoxanthin dinoflagellate plastids is evolutionarily dynamic, coevolving with the underlying genome sequence.

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Revealing the genetic changes responsible for antibiotic resistance can be critical for developing novel antibiotic therapies. However, systematic studies correlating genotype to phenotype in the context of antibiotic resistance have been missing. In order to fill in this gap, we evolved 88 isogenic Escherichia coli populations against 22 antibiotics for 3 weeks. For every drug, two populations were evolved under strong selection and two populations were evolved under mild selection. By quantifying evolved populations’ resistances against all 22 drugs, we constructed two separate cross-resistance networks for strongly and mildly selected populations. Subsequently, we sequenced representative colonies isolated from evolved populations for revealing the genetic basis for novel phenotypes. Bacterial populations that evolved resistance against antibiotics under strong selection acquired high levels of cross-resistance against several antibiotics, whereas other bacterial populations evolved under milder selection acquired relatively weaker cross-resistance. In addition, we found that strongly selected strains against aminoglycosides became more susceptible to five other drug classes compared with their wild-type ancestor as a result of a point mutation on TrkH, an ion transporter protein. Our findings suggest that selection strength is an important parameter contributing to the complexity of antibiotic resistance problem and use of high doses of antibiotics to clear infections has the potential to promote increase of cross-resistance in clinics.

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The protein product of the myxovirus resistance 2 (MX2) gene restricts HIV-1 and simian retroviruses. We demonstrate that MX2 evolved adaptively in mammals with distinct sites representing selection targets in distinct branches; selection mainly involved residues in loop 4, previously shown to carry antiviral determinants. Modeling data indicated that positively selected sites form a continuous surface on loop 4, which folds into two antiparallel α-helices protruding from the stalk domain. A population genetics–phylogenetics approach indicated that the coding region of MX2 mainly evolved under negative selection in the human lineage. Nonetheless, population genetic analyses demonstrated that natural selection operated on MX2 during the recent history of human populations: distinct selective events drove the frequency increase of two haplotypes in the populations of Asian and European ancestry. The Asian haplotype carries a susceptibility allele for melanoma; the European haplotype is tagged by rs2074560, an intronic variant. Analyses performed on three independent European cohorts of HIV-1-exposed seronegative individuals with different geographic origin and distinct exposure route showed that the ancestral (G) allele of rs2074560 protects from HIV-1 infection with a recessive effect (combined P = 1.55 x 10–4). The same allele is associated with lower in vitro HIV-1 replication and increases MX2 expression levels in response to IFN-α. Data herein exploit evolutionary information to identify a novel host determinant of HIV-1 infection susceptibility.

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Echolocation is a sensory system whereby certain mammals navigate and forage using sound waves, usually in environments where visibility is limited. Curiously, echolocation has evolved independently in bats and whales, which occupy entirely different environments. Based on this phenotypic convergence, recent studies identified several echolocation-related genes with parallel sites at the protein sequence level among different echolocating mammals, and among these, prestin seems the most promising. Although previous studies analyzed the evolutionary mechanism of prestin, the functional roles of the parallel sites in the evolution of mammalian echolocation are not clear. By functional assays, we show that a key parameter of prestin function, 1/α, is increased in all echolocating mammals and that the N7T parallel substitution accounted for this functional convergence. Moreover, another parameter, V1/2, was shifted toward the depolarization direction in a toothed whale, the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and a constant-frequency (CF) bat, the Stoliczka’s trident bat (Aselliscus stoliczkanus). The parallel site of I384T between toothed whales and CF bats was responsible for this functional convergence. Furthermore, the two parameters (1/α and V1/2) were correlated with mammalian high-frequency hearing, suggesting that the convergent changes of the prestin function in echolocating mammals may play important roles in mammalian echolocation. To our knowledge, these findings present the functional patterns of echolocation-related genes in echolocating mammals for the first time and rigorously demonstrate adaptive parallel evolution at the protein sequence level, paving the way to insights into the molecular mechanism underlying mammalian echolocation.

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In species with separate sexes, social systems can differ in the relative variances of male versus female reproductive success. Papionin monkeys (macaques, mangabeys, mandrills, drills, baboons, and geladas) exhibit hallmarks of a high variance in male reproductive success, including a female-biased adult sex ratio and prominent sexual dimorphism. To explore the potential genomic consequences of such sex differences, we used a reduced representation genome sequencing approach to quantifying polymorphism at sites on autosomes and sex chromosomes of the tonkean macaque (Macaca tonkeana), a species endemic to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The ratio of nucleotide diversity of the X chromosome to that of the autosomes was less than the value (0.75) expected with a 1:1 sex ratio and no sex differences in the variance in reproductive success. However, the significance of this difference was dependent on which outgroup was used to standardize diversity levels. Using a new model that includes the effects of varying population size, sex differences in mutation rate between the autosomes and X chromosome, and GC-biased gene conversion (gBGC) or selection on GC content, we found that the maximum-likelihood estimate of the ratio of effective population size of the X chromosome to that of the autosomes was 0.68, which did not differ significantly from 0.75. We also found evidence for 1) a higher level of purifying selection on genic than nongenic regions, 2) gBGC or natural selection favoring increased GC content, 3) a dynamic demography characterized by population growth and contraction, 4) a higher mutation rate in males than females, and 5) a very low polymorphism level on the Y chromosome. These findings shed light on the population genomic consequences of sex differences in the variance in reproductive success, which appear to be modest in the tonkean macaque; they also suggest the occurrence of hitchhiking on the Y chromosome.

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Chemically defended plant tissues present formidable barriers to herbivores. Although mechanisms to resist plant defenses have been identified in ancient herbivorous lineages, adaptations to overcome plant defenses during transitions to herbivory remain relatively unexplored. The fly genus Scaptomyza is nested within the genus Drosophila and includes species that feed on the living tissue of mustard plants (Brassicaceae), yet this lineage is derived from microbe-feeding ancestors. We found that mustard-feeding Scaptomyza species and microbe-feeding Drosophila melanogaster detoxify mustard oils, the primary chemical defenses in the Brassicaceae, using the widely conserved mercapturic acid pathway. This detoxification strategy differs from other specialist herbivores of mustard plants, which possess derived mechanisms to obviate mustard oil formation. To investigate whether mustard feeding is coupled with evolution in the mercapturic acid pathway, we profiled functional and molecular evolutionary changes in the enzyme glutathione S-transferase D1 (GSTD1), which catalyzes the first step of the mercapturic acid pathway and is induced by mustard defense products in Scaptomyza. GSTD1 acquired elevated activity against mustard oils in one mustard-feeding Scaptomyza species in which GstD1 was duplicated. Structural analysis and mutagenesis revealed that substitutions at conserved residues within and near the substrate-binding cleft account for most of this increase in activity against mustard oils. Functional evolution of GSTD1 was coupled with signatures of episodic positive selection in GstD1 after the evolution of herbivory. Overall, we found that preexisting functions of generalized detoxification systems, and their refinement by natural selection, could play a central role in the evolution of herbivory.