Molecular Biology and Evolution

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April 24, 2015

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Four respiratory complexes and ATP-synthase represent central functional units in mitochondria. In some mitochondria and derived anaerobic organelles, a few or all of these respiratory complexes have been lost during evolution. We show that the respiratory chain of Chromera velia, a phototrophic relative of parasitic apicomplexans, lacks complexes I and III, making it a uniquely reduced aerobic mitochondrion. In Chromera, putative lactate:cytochrome c oxidoreductases are predicted to transfer electrons from lactate to cytochrome c, rendering complex III unnecessary. The mitochondrial genome of Chromera has the smallest known protein-coding capacity of all mitochondria, encoding just cox1 and cox3 on heterogeneous linear molecules. In contrast, another photosynthetic relative of apicomplexans, Vitrella brassicaformis, retains the same set of genes as apicomplexans and dinoflagellates (cox1, cox3, and cob).

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Populations of plant RNA viruses are highly polymorphic in infected plants, which may allow rapid within-host evolution. To understand tobacco etch potyvirus (TEV) evolution, longitudinal samples from experimentally evolved populations in the natural host tobacco and from the alternative host pepper were phenotypically characterized and genetically analyzed. Temporal and compartmental variabilities of TEV populations were quantified using high throughput Illumina sequencing and population genetic approaches. Of the two viral phenotypic traits measured, virulence increased in the novel host but decreased in the original one, and viral load decreased in both hosts, though to a lesser extent in the novel one. Dynamics of population genetic diversity were also markedly different among hosts. Population heterozygosity increased in the ancestral host, with a dominance of synonymous mutations fixed, whereas it did not change or even decreased in the new host, with an excess of nonsynonymous mutations. All together, these observations suggest that directional selection is the dominant evolutionary force in TEV populations evolving in a novel host whereas either diversifying selection or random genetic drift may play a fundamental role in the natural host. To better understand these evolutionary dynamics, we developed a computer simulation model that incorporates the effects of mutation, selection, and drift. Upon parameterization with empirical data from previous studies, model predictions matched the observed patterns, thus reinforcing our idea that the empirical patterns of mutation accumulation represent adaptive evolution.

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The population persistence of schizophrenia despite associated reductions in fitness and fecundity suggests that the genetic basis of schizophrenia has a complex evolutionary history. A recent meta-analysis of schizophrenia genome-wide association studies offers novel opportunities for assessment of the evolutionary trajectories of schizophrenia-associated loci. In this study, we hypothesize that components of the genetic architecture of schizophrenia are attributable to human lineage-specific evolution. Our results suggest that schizophrenia-associated loci enrich in genes near previously identified human accelerated regions (HARs). Specifically, we find that genes near HARs conserved in nonhuman primates (pHARs) are enriched for schizophrenia-associated loci, and that pHAR-associated schizophrenia genes are under stronger selective pressure than other schizophrenia genes and other pHAR-associated genes. We further evaluate pHAR-associated schizophrenia genes in regulatory network contexts to investigate associated molecular functions and mechanisms. We find that pHAR-associated schizophrenia genes significantly enrich in a GABA-related coexpression module that was previously found to be differentially regulated in schizophrenia affected individuals versus healthy controls. In another two independent networks constructed from gene expression profiles from prefrontal cortex samples, we find that pHAR-associated schizophrenia genes are located in more central positions and their average path lengths to the other nodes are significantly shorter than those of other schizophrenia genes. Together, our results suggest that HARs are associated with potentially important functional roles in the genetic architecture of schizophrenia.

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MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are involved in posttranscriptional regulation of gene expression. Because several miRNAs are known to affect the stability or translation of developmental regulatory genes, the origin of novel miRNAs may have contributed to the evolution of developmental processes and morphology. Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) is a species-rich clade with a well-established phylogeny and abundant genomic resources, thereby representing an ideal system in which to study miRNA evolution. We sequenced small RNA libraries from developmental stages of two divergent lepidopterans, Cameraria ohridella (Horse chestnut Leafminer) and Pararge aegeria (Speckled Wood butterfly), discovering 90 and 81 conserved miRNAs, respectively, and many species-specific miRNA sequences. Mapping miRNAs onto the lepidopteran phylogeny reveals rapid miRNA turnover and an episode of miRNA fixation early in lepidopteran evolution, implying that miRNA acquisition accompanied the early radiation of the Lepidoptera. One lepidopteran-specific miRNA gene, miR-2768, is located within an intron of the homeobox gene invected, involved in insect segmental and wing patterning. We identified cubitus interruptus (ci) as a likely direct target of miR-2768, and validated this suppression using a luciferase assay system. We propose a model by which miR-2768 modulates expression of ci in the segmentation pathway and in patterning of lepidopteran wing primordia.

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As drug-resistant pathogens continue to emerge, combination therapy will increasingly be relied upon to treat infections and to help combat further development of multidrug resistance. At present a dichotomy exists between clinical practice, which favors therapeutically synergistic combinations, and the scientific model emerging from in vitro experimental work, which maintains that this interaction provides greater selective pressure toward resistance development than other interaction types. We sought to extend the current paradigm, based on work below or near minimum inhibitory concentration levels, to reflect drug concentrations more likely to be encountered during treatment. We performed a series of adaptive evolution experiments using Staphylococcus aureus. Interestingly, no relationship between drug interaction type and resistance evolution was found as resistance increased significantly beyond wild-type levels. All drug combinations, irrespective of interaction types, effectively limited resistance evolution compared with monotreatment. Cross-resistance and collateral sensitivity were found to be important factors in the extent of resistance evolution toward a combination. Comparative genomic analyses revealed that resistance to drug combinations was mediated largely by mutations in the same genes as single-drug-evolved lineages highlighting the importance of the component drugs in determining the rate of resistance evolution. Results of this work suggest that the mechanisms of resistance to constituent drugs should be the focus of future resistance evolution work.

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Balancing selection maintains advantageous genetic and phenotypic diversity in populations. When selection acts for long evolutionary periods selected polymorphisms may survive species splits and segregate in present-day populations of different species. Here, we investigate the role of long-term balancing selection in the evolution of protein-coding sequences in the Homo–Pan clade. We sequenced the exome of 20 humans, 20 chimpanzees, and 20 bonobos and detected eight coding trans-species polymorphisms (trSNPs) that are shared among the three species and have segregated for approximately 14 My of independent evolution. Although the majority of these trSNPs were found in three genes of the major histocompatibility locus cluster, we also uncovered one coding trSNP (rs12088790) in the gene LAD1. All these trSNPs show clustering of sequences by allele rather than by species and also exhibit other signatures of long-term balancing selection, such as segregating at intermediate frequency and lying in a locus with high genetic diversity. Here, we focus on the trSNP in LAD1, a gene that encodes for Ladinin-1, a collagenous anchoring filament protein of basement membrane that is responsible for maintaining cohesion at the dermal-epidermal junction; the gene is also an autoantigen responsible for linear IgA disease. This trSNP results in a missense change (Leucine257Proline) and, besides altering the protein sequence, is associated with changes in gene expression of LAD1.

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Ty3/Gypsy long terminals repeat (LTR) retrotransposons are structurally and phylogenetically close to retroviruses. Two notable structural differences between these groups of genetic elements are 1) the presence in retroviruses of an additional envelope gene, env, which mediates infection, and 2) a specific dual ribonuclease H (RNH) domain encoded by the retroviral pol gene. However, similar to retroviruses, many Ty3/Gypsy LTR retrotransposons harbor additional env-like genes, promoting concepts of the infective mode of these retrotransposons. Here, we provide a further line of evidence of similarity between retroviruses and some Ty3/Gypsy LTR retrotransposons. We identify that, together with their additional genes, plant Ty3/Gypsy LTR retrotransposons of the Tat group have a second RNH, as do retroviruses. Most importantly, we show that the resulting dual RNHs of Tat LTR retrotransposons and retroviruses emerged independently, providing strong evidence for their convergent evolution. The convergent resemblance of Tat LTR retrotransposons and retroviruses may indicate similar selection pressures acting on these diverse groups of elements and reveal potential evolutionary constraints on their structure. We speculate that dual RNH is required to accelerate retrotransposon evolution through increased rates of strand transfer events and subsequent recombination events.

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Genomic features such as rate of recombination and differentiation have been suggested to play a role in species divergence. However, the relationship of these phenomena to functional organization of the genome in the context of reproductive isolation remains unexplored. Here, we examine genomic characteristics of the species boundaries between two house mouse subspecies (Mus musculus musculus/M. m. domesticus). These taxa form a narrow semipermeable zone of secondary contact across Central Europe. Due to the incomplete nature of reproductive isolation, gene flow in the zone varies across the genome. We present an analysis of genomic differentiation, rate of recombination, and functional composition of genes relative to varying amounts of introgression. We assessed introgression using 1,316 autosomal single nucleotide polymorphism markers, previously genotyped in hybrid populations from three transects. We found a significant relationship between amounts of introgression and both genomic differentiation and rate of recombination with genomic regions of reduced introgression associated with higher genomic differentiation and lower rates of recombination, and the opposite for genomic regions of extensive introgression. We also found a striking functional polarization of genes based on where they are expressed in the cell. Regions of elevated introgression exhibit a disproportionate number of genes involved in signal transduction functioning at the cell periphery, among which olfactory receptor genes were found to be the most prominent group. Conversely, genes expressed intracellularly and involved in DNA binding were the most prevalent in regions of reduced introgression. We hypothesize that functional organization of the genome is an important driver of species divergence.

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The developmental hourglass model has been used to describe the morphological transitions of related species throughout embryogenesis. Recently, quantifiable approaches combining transcriptomic and evolutionary information provided novel evidence for the presence of a phylotranscriptomic hourglass pattern across kingdoms. As its biological function is unknown it remains speculative whether this pattern is functional or merely represents a nonfunctional evolutionary relic. The latter would seriously hamper future experimental approaches designed to test hypotheses regarding its function. Here, we address this question by generating transcriptome divergence index (TDI) profiles across embryogenesis of Danio rerio, Drosophila melanogaster, and Arabidopsis thaliana. To enable meaningful evaluation of the resulting patterns, we develop a statistical test that specifically assesses potential hourglass patterns. Based on this objective measure we find that two of these profiles follow a statistically significant hourglass pattern with the most conserved transcriptomes in the phylotypic periods. As the TDI considers only recent evolutionary signals, this indicates that the phylotranscriptomic hourglass pattern is not a rudiment but possibly actively maintained, implicating the existence of some linked biological function associated with embryogenesis in extant species.

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Convergent evolution occurs when the same trait arises independently in multiple lineages. In most cases of phenotypic convergence such transitions are adaptive, so finding the underlying molecular causes of convergence can provide insight into the process of adaptation. Convergent evolution at the genomic level also lends itself to study by comparative methods, although molecular convergence can also occur by chance, adding noise to this process. Parker et al. studied convergence across the genomes of several mammals, including echolocating bats and dolphins (Parker J, Tsagkogeorga G, Cotton JA, Liu Y, Provero P, Stupka E, Rossiter SJ. 2013. Genome-wide signatures of convergent evolution in echolocating mammals. Nature 502:228–231). On the basis of a null distribution of site-specific likelihood support (SSLS) generated using simulated topologies, they concluded that there was evidence for genome-wide adaptive convergence between echolocating taxa. Here, we demonstrate that methods based on SSLS do not adequately measure convergence, and reiterate the use of an empirical null model that directly compares convergent substitutions between all pairs of species. We find that when the proper comparisons are made there is no surprising excess of convergence between echolocating mammals, even in sensory genes.

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Toothed whales and two groups of bats independently acquired echolocation, the ability to locate and identify objects by reflected sound. Echolocation requires physiologically complex and coordinated vocal, auditory, and neural functions, but the molecular basis of the capacity for echolocation is not well understood. A recent study suggested that convergent amino acid substitutions widespread in the proteins of echolocators underlay the convergent origins of mammalian echolocation. Here, we show that genomic signatures of molecular convergence between echolocating lineages are generally no stronger than those between echolocating and comparable nonecholocating lineages. The same is true for the group of 29 hearing-related proteins claimed to be enriched with molecular convergence. Reexamining the previous selection test reveals several flaws and invalidates the asserted evidence for adaptive convergence. Together, these findings indicate that the reported genomic signatures of convergence largely reflect the background level of sequence convergence unrelated to the origins of echolocation.

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Initial studies of the archaeal phylogeny relied mainly on the analysis of the RNA component of the small subunit of the ribosome (SSU rRNA). The resulting phylogenies have provided interesting but partial information on the evolutionary history of the third domain of life because SSU rRNA sequences do not contain enough phylogenetic signal to resolve all nodes of the archaeal tree. Thus, many relationships, and especially the most ancient ones, remained elusive. Moreover, SSU rRNA phylogenies can be heavily biased by tree reconstruction artifacts. The sequencing of complete genomes allows using a variety of protein markers as an alternative to SSU rRNA. Taking advantage of the recent burst of archaeal complete genome sequences, we have carried out an in-depth phylogenomic analysis of this domain. We have identified 200 new protein families that, in addition to the ribosomal proteins and the subunits of the RNA polymerase, form a conserved phylogenetic core of archaeal genes. The accurate analysis of these markers combined with desaturation approaches shed new light on the evolutionary history of Archaea and reveals that several relationships recovered in recent analyses are likely the consequence of tree reconstruction artifacts. Among others, we resolve a number of important relationships, such as those among methanogens Class I, and we propose the definition of two new superclasses within the Euryarchaeota: Methanomada and Diaforarchaea.

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Malaria parasites are highly virulent pathogens which infect a wide range of vertebrates. Despite their importance, the way different hosts control and suppress malaria infections remains poorly understood. With recent developments in next-generation sequencing techniques, however, it is now possible to quantify the response of the entire transcriptome to infections. We experimentally infected Eurasian siskins (Carduelis spinus) with avian malaria parasites (Plasmodium ashfordi), and used high-throughput RNA-sequencing to measure the avian transcriptome in blood collected before infection (day 0), during peak parasitemia (day 21 postinfection), and when parasitemia was decreasing (day 31). We found considerable differences in the transcriptomes of infected and uninfected individuals, with a large number of genes differentially expressed during both peak and decreasing parasitemia stages. These genes were overrepresented among functions involved in the immune system, stress response, cell death regulation, metabolism, and telomerase activity. Comparative analyses of the differentially expressed genes in our study to those found in other hosts of malaria (human and mouse) revealed a set of genes that are potentially involved in highly conserved evolutionary responses to malaria infection. By using RNA-sequencing we gained a more complete view of the host response, and were able to pinpoint not only well-documented host genes but also unannotated genes with clear significance during infection, such as microRNAs. This study shows how the avian blood transcriptome shifts in response to malaria infection, and we believe that it will facilitate further research into the diversity of molecular mechanisms that hosts utilize to fight malaria infections.

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The largest living carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), is the sole survivor of a lineage originating about 12 Ma. We set out to investigate the spectrum of transposable elements found in the Tasmanian devil genome, the first high-coverage genome of an Australian marsupial. Marsupial genomes have been shown to have the highest amount of transposable elements among vertebrates. We analyzed the horizontally transmitted DNA transposons OC1 and hAT-1_MEu in the Tasmanian devil genome. OC1 is present in all carnivorous marsupials, while having a very limited distribution among the remaining Australian marsupial orders. In contrast, hAT-1_MEu is present in all Australian marsupial orders, and has so far only been identified in a few placental mammals. We screened 158 introns for phylogenetically informative retrotransposons in the order Dasyuromorphia, and found that the youngest SINE (Short INterspersed Element), WSINE1, is no longer active in the subfamily Dasyuridae. The lack of detectable WSINE1 activity in this group may be due to a retrotransposon inactivation event approximately 30 Ma. We found that the Tasmanian devil genome contains a relatively low number of continuous full-length LINE-1 (Long INterspersed Element 1, L1) retrotransposons compared with the opossum genome. Furthermore, all L1 elements in the Tasmanian devil appeared to be nonfunctional. Hidden Markov Model approaches suggested that other potential sources of functional reverse transcriptase are absent from the genome. We discuss the issues associated with assembling long, highly similar L1 copies from short read Illumina data and describe how assembly artifacts can potentially lead to erroneous conclusions.

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Utricularia gibba is an aquatic carnivorous plant with highly specialized morphology, featuring fibrous floating networks of branches and leaf-like organs, no recognizable roots, and bladder traps that capture and digest prey. We recently described the compressed genome of U. gibba as sufficient to control the development and reproduction of a complex organism. We hypothesized intense deletion pressure as a mechanism whereby most noncoding DNA was deleted, despite evidence for three independent whole-genome duplications (WGDs). Here, we explore the impact of intense genome fractionation in the evolutionary dynamics of U. gibba’s functional gene space. We analyze U. gibba gene family turnover by modeling gene gain/death rates under a maximum-likelihood statistical framework. In accord with our deletion pressure hypothesis, we show that the U. gibba gene death rate is significantly higher than those of four other eudicot species. Interestingly, the gene gain rate is also significantly higher, likely reflecting the occurrence of multiple WGDs and possibly also small-scale genome duplications. Gene ontology enrichment analyses of U. gibba-specific two-gene orthogroups, multigene orthogroups, and singletons highlight functions that may represent adaptations in an aquatic carnivorous plant. We further discuss two homeodomain transcription factor gene families (WOX and HDG/HDZIP-IV) showing conspicuous differential expansions and contractions in U. gibba. Our results 1) reconcile the compactness of the U. gibba genome with its accommodation of a typical number of genes for a plant genome, and 2) highlight the role of high gene family turnover in the evolutionary diversification of U. gibba’s functional gene space and adaptations to its unique lifestyle and highly specialized body plan.

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Sex chromosomes have evolved many times in animals and studying these replicate evolutionary "experiments" can help broaden our understanding of the general forces driving the origin and evolution of sex chromosomes. However this plan of study has been hindered by the inability to identify the sex chromosome systems in the large number of species with cryptic, homomorphic sex chromosomes. Restriction site-associated DNA sequencing (RAD-seq) is a critical enabling technology that can identify the sex chromosome systems in many species where traditional cytogenetic methods have failed. Using newly generated RAD-seq data from 12 gecko species, along with data from the literature, we reinterpret the evolution of sex-determining systems in lizards and snakes and test the hypothesis that sex chromosomes can routinely act as evolutionary traps. We uncovered between 17 and 25 transitions among gecko sex-determining systems. This is approximately one-half to two-thirds of the total number of transitions observed among all lizards and snakes. We find support for the hypothesis that sex chromosome systems can readily become trap-like and show that adding even a small number of species from understudied clades can greatly enhance hypothesis testing in a model-based phylogenetic framework. RAD-seq will undoubtedly prove useful in evaluating other species for male or female heterogamety, particularly the majority of fish, amphibian, and reptile species that lack visibly heteromorphic sex chromosomes, and will significantly accelerate the pace of biological discovery.