Molecular Biology and Evolution

Molecular Biology and Evolution - RSS feed of current issue

URL

XML feed
http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org

Last update

1 hour 16 min ago

December 19, 2014

06:04
06:04

The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is one of the world’s most endangered mammals and remains threatened by environmental and anthropogenic pressure. It is commonly argued that giant pandas are an evolutionary cul-de-sac because of their specialized bamboo diet, phylogenetic changes in body size, small population, low genetic diversity, and low reproductive rate. This notion is incorrect, arose from a poor understanding or appreciation of giant panda biology, and is in need of correction. In this review, we summarize research across morphology, ecology, and genetics to dispel the idea, once and for all, that giant pandas are evolutionary dead-end. The latest and most advanced research shows that giant pandas are successful animals highly adapted to a specialized bamboo diet via morphological, ecological, and genetic adaptations and coadaptation of gut microbiota. We also debunk misconceptions around population size, population growth rate, and genetic variation. During their evolutionary history spanning 8 My, giant pandas have survived diet specialization, massive bamboo flowering and die off, and rapid climate oscillations. Now, they are suffering from enormous human interference. Fortunately, continued conservation effort is greatly reducing impacts from anthropogenic interference and allowing giant panda populations and habitat to recover. Previous ideas of a giant panda evolutionary cul-de-sac resulted from an unsystematic and unsophisticated understanding of their biology and it is time to shed this baggage and focus on the survival and maintenance of this high-profile species.

06:04

The resurrection of ancestral proteins provides direct insight into how natural selection has shaped proteins found in nature. By tracing substitutions along a gene phylogeny, ancestral proteins can be reconstructed in silico and subsequently synthesized in vitro. This elegant strategy reveals the complex mechanisms responsible for the evolution of protein functions and structures. However, to date, all protein resurrection studies have used simplistic approaches for ancestral sequence reconstruction (ASR), including the assumption that a single sequence alignment alone is sufficient to accurately reconstruct the history of the gene family. The impact of such shortcuts on conclusions about ancestral functions has not been investigated. Here, we show with simulations that utilizing information on species history using a model that accounts for the duplication, horizontal transfer, and loss (DTL) of genes statistically increases ASR accuracy. This underscores the importance of the tree topology in the inference of putative ancestors. We validate our in silico predictions using in vitro resurrection of the LeuB enzyme for the ancestor of the Firmicutes, a major and ancient bacterial phylum. With this particular protein, our experimental results demonstrate that information on the species phylogeny results in a biochemically more realistic and kinetically more stable ancestral protein. Additional resurrection experiments with different proteins are necessary to statistically quantify the impact of using species tree-aware gene trees on ancestral protein phenotypes. Nonetheless, our results suggest the need for incorporating both sequence and DTL information in future studies of protein resurrections to accurately define the genotype–phenotype space in which proteins diversify.

06:04

The evolution of avian feathers has recently been illuminated by fossils and the identification of genes involved in feather patterning and morphogenesis. However, molecular studies have focused mainly on protein-coding genes. Using comparative genomics and more than 600,000 conserved regulatory elements, we show that patterns of genome evolution in the vicinity of feather genes are consistent with a major role for regulatory innovation in the evolution of feathers. Rates of innovation at feather regulatory elements exhibit an extended period of innovation with peaks in the ancestors of amniotes and archosaurs. We estimate that 86% of such regulatory elements and 100% of the nonkeratin feather gene set were present prior to the origin of Dinosauria. On the branch leading to modern birds, we detect a strong signal of regulatory innovation near insulin-like growth factor binding protein (IGFBP) 2 and IGFBP5, which have roles in body size reduction, and may represent a genomic signature for the miniaturization of dinosaurian body size preceding the origin of flight.

06:04

A consensus on Bantu-speaking populations being genetically similar has emerged in the last few years, but the demographic scenarios associated with their dispersal are still a matter of debate. The frontier model proposed by archeologists postulates different degrees of interaction among incoming agropastoralist and resident foraging groups in the presence of "static" and "moving" frontiers. By combining mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome data collected from several southern African populations, we show that Bantu-speaking populations from regions characterized by a moving frontier developing after a long-term static frontier have larger hunter-gatherer contributions than groups from areas where a static frontier was not followed by further spatial expansion. Differences in the female and male components suggest that the process of assimilation of the long-term resident groups into agropastoralist societies was gender biased. Our results show that the diffusion of Bantu languages and culture in Southern Africa was a process more complex than previously described and suggest that the admixture dynamics between farmers and foragers played an important role in shaping the current patterns of genetic diversity.

06:04

Septate junctions (SJs) insure barrier properties and control paracellular diffusion of solutes across epithelia in invertebrates. However, the origin and evolution of their molecular constituents in Metazoa have not been firmly established. Here, we investigated the genomes of early branching metazoan representatives to reconstruct the phylogeny of the molecular components of SJs. Although Claudins and SJ cytoplasmic adaptor components appeared successively throughout metazoan evolution, the structural components of SJs arose at the time of Placozoa/Cnidaria/Bilateria radiation. We also show that in the scleractinian coral Stylophora pistillata, the structural SJ component Neurexin IV colocalizes with the cortical actin network at the apical border of the cells, at the place of SJs. We propose a model for SJ components in Cnidaria. Moreover, our study reveals an unanticipated diversity of SJ structural component variants in cnidarians. This diversity correlates with gene-specific expression in calcifying and noncalcifying tissues, suggesting specific paracellular pathways across the cell layers of these diploblastic animals.

06:04

Copy number variation (CNV) makes a major contribution to overall genetic variation and is suspected to play an important role in adaptation. However, aside from a few model species, the extent of CNV in natural populations has seldom been investigated. Here, we report on CNV in the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum, a powerful system for studying the genetic architecture of host-plant adaptation and speciation thanks to multiple host races forming a continuum of genetic divergence. Recent studies have highlighted the potential importance of chemosensory genes, including the gustatory and olfactory receptor gene families (Gr and Or, respectively), in the process of host race formation. We used targeted resequencing to achieve a very high depth of coverage, and thereby revealed the extent of CNV of 434 genes, including 150 chemosensory genes, in 104 individuals distributed across eight host races of the pea aphid. We found that CNV was widespread in our global sample, with a significantly higher occurrence in multigene families, especially in Ors. We also observed a decrease in the gene probability of being completely duplicated or deleted (CDD) with increase in coding sequence length. Genes with CDD variants were usually more polymorphic for copy number, especially in the P450 gene family where toxin resistance may be related to gene dosage. We found that Gr were overrepresented among genes discriminating host races, as were CDD genes and pseudogenes. Our observations shed new light on CNV dynamics and are consistent with CNV playing a role in both local adaptation and speciation.

06:04

Because self-incompatibility loci are maintained heterozygous and recombination within self-incompatibility loci would be disadvantageous, self-incompatibility loci are thought to contribute to structural and functional differentiation of chromosomes. Although the hermaphrodite chordate, Ciona intestinalis, has two self-incompatibility genes, this incompatibility system is incomplete and self-fertilization occurs under laboratory conditions. Here, we established an inbred strain of C. intestinalis by repeated self-fertilization. Decoding genome sequences of sibling animals of this strain identified a 2.4-Mbheterozygous region on chromosome 7. A self-incompatibility gene, Themis-B, was encoded within this region. This observation implied that this self-incompatibility locus and the linkage disequilibrium of its flanking region contribute to the formation of the 2.4-Mb heterozygous region, probably through recombination suppression. We showed that different individuals in natural populations had different numbers and different combinations of Themis-B variants, and that the rate of self-fertilization varied among these animals. Our result explains why self-fertilization occurs under laboratory conditions. It also supports the concept that the Themis-B locus is preferentially retained heterozygous in the inbred line and contributes to the formation of the 2.4-Mb heterozygous region. High structural variations might suppress recombination, and this long heterozygous region might represent a preliminary stage of structural differentiation of chromosomes.

06:04

Heat-shock protein 90 (Hsp90) promotes the maturation and stability of its client proteins, including many kinases. In doing so, Hsp90 may allow its clients to accumulate mutations as previously proposed by the capacitor hypothesis. If true, Hsp90 clients should show increased evolutionary rate compared with nonclients; however, other factors, such as gene expression and protein connectivity, may confound or obscure the chaperone’s putative contribution. Here, we compared the evolutionary rates of many Hsp90 clients and nonclients in the human protein kinase superfamily. We show that Hsp90 client status promotes evolutionary rate independently of, but in a small magnitude similar to that of gene expression and protein connectivity. Hsp90’s effect on kinase evolutionary rate was detected across mammals, specifically relaxing purifying selection. Hsp90 clients also showed increased nucleotide diversity and harbored more damaging variation than nonclient kinases across humans. These results are consistent with the central argument of the capacitor hypothesis that interaction with the chaperone allows its clients to harbor genetic variation. Hsp90 client status is thought to be highly dynamic with as few as one amino acid change rendering a protein dependent on the chaperone. Contrary to this expectation, we found that across protein kinase phylogeny Hsp90 client status tends to be gained, maintained, and shared among closely related kinases. We also infer that the ancestral protein kinase was not an Hsp90 client. Taken together, our results suggest that Hsp90 played an important role in shaping the kinase superfamily.

06:04

Neutral drift occurring over millions or billions of years results in substantial sequence divergence among enzymes that catalyze the same reaction. Although natural selection maintains the primary activity of orthologous enzymes, there is, by definition, no selective pressure to maintain physiologically irrelevant promiscuous activities. Thus, the levels and the evolvabilities of promiscuous activities may vary among orthologous enzymes. Consistent with this expectation, we have found that the levels of a promiscuous activity in nine gamma-glutamyl phosphate reductase (ProA) orthologs vary by about 50-fold. Remarkably, a single amino acid change from Glu to Ala near the active site appeared to be critical for improvement of the promiscuous activity in every ortholog. The effects of this change varied dramatically. The improvement in the promiscuous activity varied from 50- to 770-fold, and, importantly, was not correlated with the initial level of the promiscuous activity. The decrease in the original activity varied from 190- to 2,100-fold. These results suggest that evolution of a novel enzyme may be possible in some microbes, but not in others. Further, these results underscore the importance of using multiple orthologs as starting points for directed evolution of novel enzyme activities.

06:04

Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) comprise 8% of the human genome and are common in all vertebrate genomes. The only retrovirus known to be currently transitioning from exogenous to endogenous form is the koala retrovirus (KoRV), making koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) ideal for examining the early stages of retroviral endogenization. To distinguish endogenous from exogenous KoRV proviruses, we isolated koala genomic regions flanking KoRV integration sites. In three wild southern Australian koalas, there were fewer KoRV loci than in three captive Queensland koalas, consistent with reports that southern Australian koalas carry fewer KoRVs. Of 39 distinct KoRV proviral loci examined in a sire–dam–progeny triad, all proved to be vertically transmitted and endogenous; none was exogenous. Of the 39 endogenous KoRVs (enKoRVs), only one was present in the genomes of both the sire and the dam, suggesting that, at this early stage in the retroviral invasion of a host germ line, very large numbers of ERVs have proliferated at very low frequencies in the koala population. Sequence divergence between the 5'- and 3'-long terminal repeats (LTRs) of a provirus can be used as a molecular clock. Within each of ten enKoRVs, the 5'-LTR sequence was identical to the 3'-LTR sequence, suggesting a maximum age for enKoRV invasion of the koala germ line of approximately 22,200–49,900 years ago, although a much younger age is possible. Across the ten proviruses, seven LTR haplotypes were detected, indicating that at least seven different retroviral sequences had entered the koala germ line.

06:04

High mobility group (HMG)-N proteins are a family of small nonhistone proteins that bind to nucleosomes (N). Despite the amount of information available on their structure and function, there is an almost complete lack of information on the molecular evolutionary mechanisms leading to their exclusive differentiation. In the present work, we provide evidence suggesting that HMGN lineages constitute independent monophyletic groups derived from a common ancestor prior to the diversification of vertebrates. Based on observations of the functional diversification across vertebrate HMGN proteins and on the extensive silent nucleotide divergence, our results suggest that the long-term evolution of HMGNs occurs under strong purifying selection, resulting from the lineage-specific functional constraints of their different protein domains. Selection analyses on independent lineages suggest that their functional specialization was mediated by bursts of adaptive selection at specific evolutionary times, in a small subset of codons with functional relevance—most notably in HMGN1, and in the rapidly evolving HMGN5. This work provides useful information to our understanding of the specialization imparted on chromatin metabolism by HMGNs, especially on the evolutionary mechanisms underlying their functional differentiation in vertebrates.

06:04

β-lactamases are produced by many modern bacteria as a mechanism of resistance toward β-lactam antibiotics, the most common antibiotics in use. β-lactamases, however, are ancient enzymes that originated billions of years ago. Recently, proteins corresponding to 2- to 3-Gy-old Precambrian nodes in the evolution of Class A β-lactamases have been prepared and shown to be moderately efficient promiscuous catalysts, able to degrade a variety of antibiotics with catalytic efficiency levels similar to those of an average modern enzyme. Remarkably, there are few structural differences (in particular at the active-site regions) between the resurrected enzymes and a penicillin-specialist modern β-lactamase. Here, we propose that the ancestral promiscuity originates from conformational dynamics. We investigate the differences in conformational dynamics of the ancient and extant β-lactamases through MD simulations and quantify the contribution of each position to functionally related dynamics through Dynamic Flexibility Index. The modern TEM-1 lactamase shows a comparatively rigid active-site region, likely reflecting adaptation for efficient degradation of a specific substrate (penicillin), whereas enhanced deformability at the active-site neighborhood in the ancestral resurrected proteins likely accounts for the binding and subsequent degradation of antibiotic molecules of different size and shape. Clustering of the conformational dynamics on the basis of Principal Component Analysis is in agreement with the functional divergence, as the ancient β-lactamases cluster together, separated from their modern descendant. Finally, our analysis leads to testable predictions, as sites of potential relevance for the evolution of dynamics are identified and mutations at those sites are expected to alter substrate-specificity.

06:04

Protein tyrosine phosphorylation is a key regulatory modification in metazoans, and the corresponding kinase enzymes have diversified dramatically. This diversification is correlated with a genome-wide reduction in protein tyrosine content, and it was recently suggested that this reduction was driven by selection to avoid promiscuous phosphorylation that might be deleterious. We tested three predictions of this intriguing hypothesis. 1) Selection should be stronger on residues that are more likely to be phosphorylated due to local solvent accessibility or structural disorder. 2) Selection should be stronger on proteins that are more likely to be promiscuously phosphorylated because they are abundant. We tested these predictions by comparing distributions of tyrosine within and among human and yeast orthologous proteins. 3) Selection should be stronger against mutations that create tyrosine versus remove tyrosine. We tested this prediction using human population genomic variation data. We found that all three predicted effects are modest for tyrosine when compared with the other amino acids, suggesting that selection against deleterious phosphorylation was not dominant in driving metazoan tyrosine loss.

06:04

Exposing natural selection driving phenotypic and genotypic adaptive differentiation is an extraordinary challenge. Given that an organism’s life stages are exposed to the same environmental variations, we reasoned that fitness components, such as the lag, rate, and efficiency of growth, directly reflecting performance in these life stages, should often be selected in concert. We therefore conjectured that correlations between fitness components over natural isolates, in a particular environmental context, would constitute a robust signal of recent selection. Critically, this test for selection requires fitness components to be determined by different genetic loci. To explore our conjecture, we exhaustively evaluated the lag, rate, and efficiency of asexual population growth of natural isolates of the model yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae in a large variety of nitrogen-limited environments. Overall, fitness components were well correlated under nitrogen restriction. Yeast isolates were further crossed in all pairwise combinations and coinheritance of each fitness component and genetic markers were traced. Trait variations tended to map to quantitative trait loci (QTL) that were private to a single fitness component. We further traced QTLs down to single-nucleotide resolution and uncovered loss-of-function mutations in RIM15, PUT4, DAL1, and DAL4 as the genetic basis for nitrogen source use variations. Effects of SNPs were unique for a single fitness component, strongly arguing against pleiotropy between lag, rate, and efficiency of reproduction under nitrogen restriction. The strong correlations between life stage performances that cannot be explained by pleiotropy compellingly support adaptive differentiation of yeast nitrogen source use and suggest a generic approach for detecting selection.

06:04

Influenza B viruses make a considerable contribution to morbidity attributed to seasonal influenza. Currently circulating influenza B isolates are known to belong to two antigenically distinct lineages referred to as B/Victoria and B/Yamagata. Frequent exchange of genomic segments of these two lineages has been noted in the past, but the observed patterns of reassortment have not been formalized in detail. We investigate interlineage reassortments by comparing phylogenetic trees across genomic segments. Our analyses indicate that of the eight segments of influenza B viruses only segments coding for polymerase basic 1 and 2 (PB1 and PB2) and hemagglutinin (HA) proteins have maintained separate Victoria and Yamagata lineages and that currently circulating strains possess PB1, PB2, and HA segments derived entirely from one or the other lineage; other segments have repeatedly reassorted between lineages thereby reducing genetic diversity. We argue that this difference between segments is due to selection against reassortant viruses with mixed-lineage PB1, PB2, and HA segments. Given sufficient time and continued recruitment to the reassortment-isolated PB1–PB2–HA gene complex, we expect influenza B viruses to eventually undergo sympatric speciation.