The Walter M. Fitch Award

The Fitch Award honors the best presentation at the Walter M. Fitch symposium, which provides a forum for young investigators to showcase their exemplary research at the annual meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE).


As the name suggests, this symposium and the associated prize honors Dr. Walter M. Fitch, who was a pioneer in many areas of molecular evolution, in particular the methodology of phylogenetic reconstruction, the estimation of genetic distances, the study of rate constancy in proteins and DNA sequences, the evolution of codon usage, and retroviral evolution. He also made significant contributions to virology, the origin of life, taxonomy, genetics, and molecular biology. For his work, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Linnean Society. With Masatoshi Nei, he co-founded the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, and served as editor-in-chief for its first 10 years. He also co-founded the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution and served as its first president.


Walter Monroe Fitch was born in San Diego, California, on May 21, 1929. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1953 and a Ph.D. in comparative biochemistry in 1958. He was a post-doctoral scholar at both Stanford and University College (London), and held full professorships at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Southern California. He came to University of California, Irvine in 1989 as a Distinguished Professor and later became the Chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Walter M. Fitch died on March 11, 2011, at the age of 81.

Past Recipients

Year Name Title
 2017 Anna Vickrey, University of Utah, USA  Domestic pigeon’s checkered past: wing color pattern variation is associated with one gene, two mechanisms, and interspecific introgression
 2016 Katya Kosheleva, Harvard University, USA Weakly selected standing variants dominate adaptation for 1000 generations in sexual, laboratory evolved yeast populations 
 2015 Aline Muyle, Université Lyon 1, Lyon, France. Evolution of dosage compensation in the dioecious plant Silene latifolia
 2014 Alex Cagan, Max Planck Institute, Leipzig, Germany  Genetic variants underlying tameness and agression.
2013 Karen Wong Miller, UC Berkeley, USA Genome-Wide Scans Reveal a Young Candidate Speciation Gene in Drosophila athabasca.
2012 Elizabeth Perry, University Of Oregon, USA Repeatability in evolution varies with scale, organism, and the nature of selection.
2011 Kerry Geiler-Samerotte, Harvard University, USA The selective cost of misfolded protein toxicity and a concomitant evolutionary adaptation.
2010 Takashi Tsuchimatsu, University of Zurich, Switzerland Evolution of self-compatibility in Arabidopsis thaliana by a mutation in the male specificity gene.
2009 Joshua Bayes, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, USA The molecular basis of hybrid sterility caused by the hybrid sterility gene Odysseus.
2008 Jean-François Gout, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France Translational control of intron splicing in eukaryotes.
2007 David Des Marais, Duke University, USA Gene duplication allows substrate specialization in a biosynthetic enzyme.
2006 Jennifer Cork, North Carolina State University, USA Characterizing three candidate balanced polymorphisms in Arabidopsis thaliana: a reverse genetics approach.
Joanna Kelley, University of Washington, USA Positive selection in primate tooth enamelin and evidence for human population specific adaptation.
2005 Leslie Collins, Massey University, New Zealand Cutting it in the RNA World: the spliceosome and splicing in ancestral eukaryotes.
2004 Barbara Engelhardt, University of California at Berkeley, USA Protein function prediction using a Bayesian model of molecular function evolution.
2003 Yoav Gilad, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany Loss of olfactory receptor genes is coupled to the acquisition of full trichromatic color vision.
2002 Ying Chen, University of Munich, Germany Functional analysis of phylogenetically conserved sequence elements in intron 1 of the Drosophila melanogaster Adh gene.
2001 Jeffrey Townsend, Harvard University, USA Global gene expression variation in natural isolates of Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
2000 Eric A. Gaucher, University of Florida, USA Functional analysis of proteins using covarion-based evolutionary approaches: elongation factors.
1999 Dennis Lavrov, University of Michigan, USA Arthropod phylogeny based on gene arrangement and other characters from mitochondrial DNA.
1998 Mark Siegal, Harvard University, USA Functional evolutionary analysis of genes coplaced into the Drosophila genome.
1997 Christiane Biermann, State University of New York at Stony Brook, USA Sequence variation in the sea urchin sperm protein BINDIN is generated by recombination and length mutations.
Paul Taylor, University of Leicester, UK Diversity and mutational analyses of the Y-specific mini-satellite, MSY1.
1996 Dmitri A. Petrov, Harvard University, USA Birth and death of processed pseudogenes in Drosophila: Molecular evolution of a non-LTR retrotransposable element.
1995 Hiroki Oota, University of Tokyo, Japan Phylogenetic analysis of 2,000 year old human remains of Japan (Yayoi period) based on mitochondrial DNA sequences.
1994 Alan Cooper, Smithsonian Institution, USA Avian evolution in New Zealand as revealed by mitochondrial DNA.
Janet Kornegay, University of California at Berkeley, USA Molecular adaptation of a leaf-eating bird: stomach lysozyme of the hoatzin.
1993 Youn-Ho Lee, University of California at San Diego, USA The divergence of species-specific abalone sperm lysin is promoted by positive Darwinian selection: implications regarding speciation.

Award Information

Eligibility: Current graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who received their primary doctoral-level degree no earlier than one year prior to the start of the annual meeting of the society. A candidate for the award must become member of the Society at least a month before the first day of the annual meeting.


Application Requirements

  • An abstract (250 word max) for the proposed presentation.
  • A one page expanded summary of the research, including an explanation of the broad significance or importance of the work.
  • A Curriculum Vitae.
Application: Via the abstract submission system for the annual meeting for which the award applies.

Contest: A committee convened by the SMBE Council will choose eight finalists from among the applications. Each selected finalist will present a 15-minute talk in the Walter M. Fitch Symposium at the annual meeting. Based on these presentations, a winner will be chosen by an anonymous expert panel and awarded the Walter M. Fitch Prize (US $2000). All finalists will receive a one-year, online student/postdoc MBE subscription and travel support for attending the meeting (at same rates as other travel awards, see below). 

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Molecular Biology and Evolution




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one from the West, harboring European (25–37%) and South Asian ancestries (12–20%), and the other from the East, with Siberian (15–17%) and East Asian (29–47%) ancestries. By using a newly developed method, MultiWaver, the complex admixture history of XJU was modeled as a two-wave admixture. An ancient wave was dated back to ∼3,750 years ago (ya), which is much earlier than that estimated by previous studies, but fits within the range of dating of mummies that exhibited European features that were discovered in the Tarim basin, which is situated in southern Xinjiang (4,000–2,000 ya); a more recent wave occurred around 750 ya, which is in agreement with the estimate from a recent study using other methods. We unveiled a more complex scenario of ancestral origins and admixture history in XJU than previously reported, which further suggests Bronze Age massive migrations in Eurasia and East-West contacts across the Silk Road.





GBE | Most Read

Genome Biology & Evolution

Complete Genome Sequence of Salmonella enterica subsp. enterica serovar Minnesota Strain


Mango has been implicated as food vehicle in several Salmonella-causing foodborne outbreaks. Here, Salmonella enterica subsp. enterica serovar Minnesota was isolated from fresh mango fruit imported from Mexico in 2014. The complete genome sequence of S. Minnesota CFSAN017963 was sequenced using single-molecule real-time DNA sequencing. Distinct prophage regions, Salmonella pathogenicity islands, and fimbrial gene clusters were observed in comparative genomic analysis on S. Minnesota CFSAN017963 with other phylogenetically closely related Salmonella serovars. Core genome multilocus sequencing typing analysis of all the S. Minnesota isolates in the Genbank and Enterobase also revealed a high genomic diversity among the genomes analyzed.

Origin and Spread of Spliceosomal Introns: Insights from the Fungal Clade Zymoseptoria


Spliceosomal introns are a key feature of eukaryote genome architecture and have been proposed to originate from selfish group II introns from an endosymbiotic bacterium, that is, the ancestor of mitochondria. However, the mechanisms underlying the wide spread of spliceosomal introns across eukaryotic genomes have been obscure. In this study, we characterize the dynamic evolution of spliceosomal introns in the fungal genus Zymoseptoria at different evolutionary scales, that is, within a genome, among conspecific strains within species, and between different species. Within the genome, spliceosomal introns can proliferate in unrelated genes and intergenic regions. Among conspecific strains, spliceosomal introns undergo rapid turnover (gains and losses) and frequent sequence exchange between geographically distinct strains. Furthermore, spliceosomal introns could undergo introgression between distinct species, which can further promote intron invasion and proliferation. The dynamic invasion and proliferation processes of spliceosomal introns resemble the life cycles of mobile selfish (group I/II) introns, and these intron movements, at least in part, account for the dramatic processes of intron gain and intron loss during eukaryotic evolution.

Preterm Infant-Associated Clostridium tertium , Clostridium cadaveris , and Clostridium paraputrificum Strains: Genomic and Evolutionary Insights


Clostridium species (particularly Clostridium difficile, Clostridium botulinum, Clostridium tetani and Clostridium perfringens) are associated with a range of human and animal diseases. Several other species including Clostridium tertium, Clostridium cadaveris, and Clostridium paraputrificum have also been linked with sporadic human infections, however there is very limited, or in some cases, no genomic information publicly available. Thus, we isolated one C. tertium strain, one C. cadaveris strain and three C. paraputrificum strains from preterm infants residing within neonatal intensive care units and performed Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) using Illumina HiSeq. In this report, we announce the open availability of the draft genomes: C. tertium LH009, C. cadaveris LH052, C. paraputrificum LH025, C. paraputrificum LH058, and C. paraputrificum LH141. These genomes were checked for contamination in silico to ensure purity, and we confirmed species identity and phylogeny using both 16S rRNA gene sequences (from PCR and in silico) and WGS-based approaches. Average Nucleotide Identity (ANI) was used to differentiate genomes from their closest relatives to further confirm speciation boundaries. We also analysed the genomes for virulence-related factors and antimicrobial resistance genes, and detected presence of tetracycline and methicillin resistance, and potentially harmful enzymes, including multiple phospholipases and toxins. The availability of genomic data in open databases, in tandem with our initial insights into the genomic content and virulence traits of these pathogenic Clostridium species, should enable the scientific community to further investigate the disease-causing mechanisms of these bacteria with a view to enhancing clinical diagnosis and treatment.

The Evolution of Dark Matter in the Mitogenome of Seed Beetles


Animal mitogenomes are generally thought of as being economic and optimized for rapid replication and transcription. We use long-read sequencing technology to assemble the remarkable mitogenomes of four species of seed beetles. These are the largest circular mitogenomes ever assembled in insects, ranging from 24,496 to 26,613 bp in total length, and are exceptional in that some 40% consists of non-coding DNA. The size expansion is due to two very long intergenic spacers (LIGSs), rich in tandem repeats. The two LIGSs are present in all species but vary greatly in length (114–10,408 bp), show very low sequence similarity, divergent tandem repeat motifs, a very high AT content and concerted length evolution. The LIGSs have been retained for at least some 45 my but must have undergone repeated reductions and expansions, despite strong purifying selection on protein coding mtDNA genes. The LIGSs are located in two intergenic sites where a few recent studies of insects have also reported shorter LIGSs (>200 bp). These sites may represent spaces that tolerate neutral repeat array expansions or, alternatively, the LIGSs may function to allow a more economic translational machinery. Mitochondrial respiration in adult seed beetles is based almost exclusively on fatty acids, which reduces the need for building complex I of the oxidative phosphorylation pathway (NADH dehydrogenase). One possibility is thus that the LIGSs may allow depressed transcription of NAD genes. RNA sequencing showed that LIGSs are partly transcribed and transcriptional profiling suggested that all seven mtDNA NAD genes indeed show low levels of transcription and co-regulation of transcription across sexes and tissues.

Pervasive Transcription of Mitochondrial, Plastid, and Nucleomorph Genomes across Diverse Plastid-Bearing Species


Organelle genomes exhibit remarkable diversity in content, structure, and size, and in their modes of gene expression, which are governed by both organelle- and nuclear-encoded machinery. Next generation sequencing (NGS) has generated unprecedented amounts of genomic and transcriptomic data, which can be used to investigate organelle genome transcription. However, most of the available eukaryotic RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) data are used to study nuclear transcription only, even though large numbers of organelle-derived reads can typically be mined from these experiments. Here, we use publicly available RNA-seq data to assess organelle genome transcription in 59 diverse plastid-bearing species. Our RNA mapping analyses unraveled pervasive (full or near-full) transcription of mitochondrial, plastid, and nucleomorph genomes. In all cases, 85% or more of the organelle genome was recovered from the RNA data, including noncoding (intergenic and intronic) regions. These results reinforce the idea that organelles transcribe all or nearly all of their genomic material and are dependent on post-transcriptional processing of polycistronic transcripts. We explore the possibility that transcribed intergenic regions are producing functional noncoding RNAs, and that organelle genome noncoding content might provide raw material for generating regulatory RNAs.

Comparative Transcriptomics of Steinernema and Caenorhabditis Single Embryos Reveals Orthologous Gene Expression Convergence during Late Embryogenesis


Cells express distinct sets of genes in a precise spatio-temporal manner during embryonic development. There is a wealth of information on the deterministic embryonic development of Caenorhabditis elegans, but much less is known about embryonic development in nematodes from other taxa, especially at the molecular level. We are interested in insect pathogenic nematodes from the genus Steinernema as models of parasitism and symbiosis as well as a satellite model for evolution in comparison to C. elegans. To explore gene expression differences across taxa, we sequenced the transcriptomes of single embryos of two Steinernema species and two Caenorhabditis species at 11 stages during embryonic development and found several interesting features. Our findings show that zygotic transcription initiates at different developmental stages in each species, with the Steinernema species initiating transcription earlier than Caenorhabditis. We found that ortholog expression conservation during development is higher at the later embryonic stages than at the earlier ones. The surprisingly higher conservation of orthologous gene expression in later embryonic stages strongly suggests a funnel-shaped model of embryonic developmental gene expression divergence in nematodes. This work provides novel insight into embryonic development across distantly related nematode species and demonstrates that the mechanisms controlling early development are more diverse than previously thought at the transcriptional level.

The Rhizome of Lokiarchaeota Illustrates the Mosaicity of Archaeal Genomes


Genome remodeling and exchange of sequences are widespread in the prokaryotic world and mosaic genomes challenge the classification of prokaryotes, which cannot be properly achieved in terms of a single gene or group of genes. Here, we studied individually the gene collection of the archaic microorganism Lokiarchaeum sp., suggested as an archaeal host close to the emergence of the eukaryotes. The network or rhizome of all Lokiarchaeum sp. genes revealed that the genomic repertoire is mainly composed of genes from archaeal (∼36%) and bacterial origin (∼28%), distantly followed by components of eukaryotic origin (∼2%). Thirty-three percent of genes were unique to this species (ORFans). The mosaicity of archaea was also supported by studying Methanomassiliicoccus luminyensis, an archaea from the gut, in which 67% of the genomic repertoire arised from archaea and 22% from bacteria. Our results illustrate the intricate evolutionary relationships of the archaeal genome repertoire and highlight the rhizome-like processes of evolution in archaea, their mosaicity, and chimeric origin composed of different domains of life, questioning the reality of a tree of life.

Population Genomic Analysis of a Pitviper Reveals Microevolutionary Forces Underlying Venom Chemistry


Venoms are among the most biologically active secretions known, and are commonly believed to evolve under extreme positive selection. Many venom gene families, however, have undergone duplication, and are often deployed in doses vastly exceeding the LD50 for most prey species, which should reduce the strength of positive selection. Here, we contrast these selective regimes using snake venoms, which consist of rapidly evolving protein formulations. Though decades of extensive studies have found that snake venom proteins are subject to strong positive selection, the greater action of drift has been hypothesized, but never tested. Using a combination of de novo genome sequencing, population genomics, transcriptomics, and proteomics, we compare the two modes of evolution in the pitviper, Protobothrops mucrosquamatus. By partitioning selective constraints and adaptive evolution in a McDonald–Kreitman-type framework, we find support for both hypotheses: venom proteins indeed experience both stronger positive selection, and lower selective constraint than other genes in the genome. Furthermore, the strength of selection may be modulated by expression level, with more abundant proteins experiencing weaker selective constraint, leading to the accumulation of more deleterious mutations. These findings show that snake venoms evolve by a combination of adaptive and neutral mechanisms, both of which explain their extraordinarily high rates of molecular evolution. In addition to positive selection, which optimizes efficacy of the venom in the short term, relaxed selective constraints for deleterious mutations can lead to more rapid turnover of individual proteins, and potentially to exploration of a larger venom phenotypic space.

Genome-Based Analyses of Six Hexacorallian Species Reject the “Naked Coral” Hypothesis


Scleractinian corals are the foundation species of the coral-reef ecosystem. Their calcium carbonate skeletons form extensive structures that are home to millions of species, making coral reefs one of the most diverse ecosystems of our planet. However, our understanding of how reef-building corals have evolved the ability to calcify and become the ecosystem builders they are today is hampered by uncertain relationships within their subclass Hexacorallia. Corallimorpharians have been proposed to originate from a complex scleractinian ancestor that lost the ability to calcify in response to increasing ocean acidification, suggesting the possibility for corals to lose and gain the ability to calcify in response to increasing ocean acidification. Here, we employed a phylogenomic approach using whole-genome data from six hexacorallian species to resolve the evolutionary relationship between reef-building corals and their noncalcifying relatives. Phylogenetic analysis based on 1,421 single-copy orthologs, as well as gene presence/absence and synteny information, converged on the same topologies, showing strong support for scleractinian monophyly and a corallimorpharian sister clade. Our broad phylogenomic approach using sequence-based and sequence-independent analyses provides unambiguous evidence for the monophyly of scleractinian corals and the rejection of corallimorpharians as descendants of a complex coral ancestor.

Impact of Clinical Parameters in the Intrahost Evolution of HIV-1 Subtype B in Pediatric Patients: A Machine Learning Approach


Determining the factors modulating the genetic diversity of HIV-1 populations is essential to understand viral evolution. This study analyzes the relative importance of clinical factors in the intrahost HIV-1 subtype B (HIV-1B) evolution and in the fixation of drug resistance mutations (DRM) during longitudinal pediatric HIV-1 infection. We recovered 162 partial HIV-1B pol sequences (from 3 to 24 per patient) from 24 perinatally infected patients from the Madrid Cohort of HIV-1 infected children and adolescents in a time interval ranging from 2.2 to 20.3 years. We applied machine learning classification methods to analyze the relative importance of 28 clinical/epidemiological/virological factors in the HIV-1B evolution to predict HIV-1B genetic diversity (d), nonsynonymous and synonymous mutations (dN, dS) and DRM presence. Most of the 24 HIV-1B infected pediatric patients were Spanish (91.7%), diagnosed before 2000 (83.3%), and all were antiretroviral therapy experienced. They had from 0.3 to 18.8 years of HIV-1 exposure at sampling time. Most sequences presented DRM. The best-predictor variables for HIV-1B evolutionary parameters were the age of HIV-1 diagnosis for d, the age at first antiretroviral treatment for dN and the year of HIV-1 diagnosis for ds. The year of infection (birth year) and year of sampling seemed to be relevant for fixation of both DRM at large and, considering drug families, to protease inhibitors (PI). This study identifies, for the first time using machine learning, the factors affecting more HIV-1B pol evolution and those affecting DRM fixation in HIV-1B infected pediatric patients.

Gene Regulatory Enhancers with Evolutionarily Conserved Activity Are More Pleiotropic than Those with Species-Specific Activity


Studies of regulatory activity and gene expression have revealed an intriguing dichotomy: There is substantial turnover in the regulatory activity of orthologous sequences between species; however, the expression level of orthologous genes is largely conserved. Understanding how distal regulatory elements, for example, enhancers, evolve and function is critical, as alterations in gene expression levels can drive the development of both complex disease and functional divergence between species. In this study, we investigated determinants of the conservation of regulatory enhancer activity for orthologous sequences across mammalian evolution. Using liver enhancers identified from genome-wide histone modification profiles in ten diverse mammalian species, we compared orthologous sequences that exhibited regulatory activity in all species (conserved-activity enhancers) to shared sequences active only in a single species (species-specific-activity enhancers). Conserved-activity enhancers have greater regulatory potential than species-specific-activity enhancers, as quantified by both the density and diversity of transcription factor binding motifs. Consistent with their greater regulatory potential, conserved-activity enhancers have greater regulatory activity in humans than species-specific-activity enhancers: They are active across more cellular contexts, and they regulate more genes than species-specific-activity enhancers. Furthermore, the genes regulated by conserved-activity enhancers are expressed in more tissues and are less tolerant of loss-of-function mutations than those targeted by species-specific-activity enhancers. These consistent results across various stages of gene regulation demonstrate that conserved-activity enhancers are more pleiotropic than their species-specific-activity counterparts. This suggests that pleiotropy is associated with the conservation of regulatory across mammalian evolution.

Pherotype Polymorphism in Streptococcus pneumoniae Has No Obvious Effects on Population Structure and Recombination


Natural transformation in the Gram-positive pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae occurs when cells become “competent,” a state that is induced in response to high extracellular concentrations of a secreted peptide signal called competence stimulating peptide (CSP) encoded by the comC locus. Two main CSP signal types (pherotypes) are known to dominate the pherotype diversity across strains. Using 4,089 fully sequenced pneumococcal genomes, we confirm that pneumococcal populations are highly genetically structured and that there is significant variation among diverged populations in pherotype frequencies; most carry only a single pherotype. Moreover, we find that the relative frequencies of the two dominant pherotypes significantly vary within a small range across geographical sites. It has been variously proposed that pherotypes either promote genetic exchange among cells expressing the same pherotype, or conversely that they promote recombination between strains bearing different pherotypes. We attempt to distinguish these hypotheses using a bioinformatics approach by estimating recombination frequencies within and between pherotypes across 4,089 full genomes. Despite underlying population structure, we observe extensive recombination between populations; additionally, we found significantly higher (although marginal) rates of genetic exchange between strains expressing different pherotypes than among isolates carrying the same pherotype. Our results indicate that pherotypes do not restrict, and may even slightly facilitate, recombination between strains; however, these marginal effects suggest the more likely possibility that the cause of CSP polymorphism lies outside of its effects on transformation. Our results suggest that the CSP balanced polymorphism does not causally underlie population differentiation. Therefore, when strains carrying different pherotypes encounter one another during cocolonization, genetic exchange can occur without restriction.

Signatures of Selection and Interspecies Introgression in the Genome of Chinese Domestic Pigs


Chinese domestic pigs have experienced strong artificial selection for thousands of years. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying the selection-causing phenotypic changes in Chinese domestic pigs are still largely unknown. Here we used whole-genome resequencing data of 54 pigs from 9 Chinese diverse breeds and 16 wild boars from 7 localities across China to identify genes that show evidence of positive selection in the process of domestication. A total of 14 candidate domestication regions were detected by selective sweep analyses of genetic differentiation and variability, and a set of genes in these candidate domestication regions were found to be related to metabolic process, development, reproduction, olfactory, behavior, and nervous system. The most promising candidate gene under selection - TBX19 - probably underlies the metabolic alteration and developmental traits, and may also associate with timidity of Chinese domestic pigs. Intriguingly, we found that the haplotype at TBX19 locus shared by nearly all Chinese domestic pigs was possibly introgressed from another Sus species. We also revealed the AHR gene associated with female reproduction is under strong positive selection. These results advance our understanding of the evolutionary history of Chinese domestic pigs and shed insights into identifying functionally important genes/mutations contributing to the phenotypic diversity in pigs.

Plastome Evolution in the Sole Hemiparasitic Genus Laurel Dodder ( Cassytha ) and Insights into the Plastid Phylogenomics of Lauraceae


To date, little is known about the evolution of plastid genomes (plastomes) in Lauraceae. As one of the top five largest families in tropical forests, the Lauraceae contain many species that are important ecologically and economically. Lauraceous species also provide wonderful materials to study the evolutionary trajectory in response to parasitism because they contain both nonparasitic and parasitic species. This study compared the plastomes of nine Lauraceous species, including the sole hemiparasitic and herbaceous genus Cassytha (laurel dodder; here represented by Cassytha filiformis). We found differential contractions of the canonical inverted repeat (IR), resulting in two IR types present in Lauraceae. These two IR types reinforce Cryptocaryeae and Neocinnamomum—Perseeae–Laureae as two separate clades. Our data reveal several traits unique to Cas. filiformis, including loss of IRs, loss or pseudogenization of 11 ndh and rpl23 genes, richness of repeats, and accelerated rates of nucleotide substitutions in protein-coding genes. Although Cas. filiformis is low in chlorophyll content, our analysis based on dN/dS ratios suggests that both its plastid house-keeping and photosynthetic genes are under strong selective constraints. Hence, we propose that short generation time and herbaceous lifestyle rather than reduced photosynthetic ability drive the accelerated rates of nucleotide substitutions in Cas. filiformis.

MareyMap Online: A User-Friendly Web Application and Database Service for Estimating Recombination Rates Using Physical and Genetic Maps


Given the importance of meiotic recombination in biology, there is a need to develop robust methods to estimate meiotic recombination rates. A popular approach, called the Marey map approach, relies on comparing genetic and physical maps of a chromosome to estimate local recombination rates. In the past, we have implemented this approach in an R package called MareyMap, which includes many functionalities useful to get reliable recombination rate estimates in a semi-automated way. MareyMap has been used repeatedly in studies looking at the effect of recombination on genome evolution. Here, we propose a simpler user-friendly web service version of MareyMap, called MareyMap Online, which allows a user to get recombination rates from her/his own data or from a publicly available database that we offer in a few clicks. When the analysis is done, the user is asked whether her/his curated data can be placed in the database and shared with other users, which we hope will make meta-analysis on recombination rates including many species easy in the future.

Broad Phylogenetic Occurrence of the Oxygen-Binding Hemerythrins in Bilaterians


Animal tissues need to be properly oxygenated for carrying out catabolic respiration and, as such, natural selection has presumably favored special molecules that can reversibly bind and transport oxygen. Hemoglobins, hemocyanins, and hemerythrins (Hrs) fulfill this role, with Hrs being the least studied. Knowledge of oxygen-binding proteins is crucial for understanding animal physiology. Hr genes are present in the three domains of life, Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukaryota; however, within Animalia, Hrs has been reported only in marine species in six phyla (Annelida, Brachiopoda, Priapulida, Bryozoa, Cnidaria, and Arthropoda). Given this observed Hr distribution, whether all metazoan Hrs share a common origin is circumspect. We investigated Hr diversity and evolution in metazoans, by employing in silico approaches to survey for Hrs from of 120 metazoan transcriptomes and genomes. We found 58 candidate Hr genes actively transcribed in 36 species distributed in 11 animal phyla, with new records in Echinodermata, Hemichordata, Mollusca, Nemertea, Phoronida, and Platyhelminthes. Moreover, we found that “Hrs” reported from Cnidaria and Arthropoda were not consistent with that of other metazoan Hrs. Contrary to previous suggestions that Hr genes were absent in deuterostomes, we find Hr genes present in deuterostomes and were likely present in early bilaterians, but not in nonbilaterian animal lineages. As expected, the Hr gene tree did not mirror metazoan phylogeny, suggesting that Hrs evolutionary history was complex and besides the oxygen carrying capacity, the drivers of Hr evolution may also consist of secondary functional specializations of the proteins, like immunological functions.

Dominant Allele Phylogeny and Constitutive Subgenome Haplotype Inference in Bananas Using Mitochondrial and Nuclear Markers


Cultivated bananas (Musa spp.) have undergone domestication patterns involving crosses of wild progenitors followed by long periods of clonal propagation. Majority of cultivated bananas are polyploids with different constitutive subgenomes and knowledge on phylogenies to their progenitors at the species and subspecies levels is essential. Here, the mitochondrial (NAD1) and nuclear (CENH3) markers were used to phylogenetically position cultivated banana genotypes to diploid progenitors. The CENH3 nuclear marker was used to identify a minimum representative haplotype number in polyploids and diploid bananas based on single nucleotide polymorphisms. The mitochondrial marker NAD1 was observed to be ideal in differentiating bananas of different genomic constitutions based on size of amplicons as well as sequence. The genotypes phylogenetically segregated based on the dominant genome; AAB genotypes grouped with AA and AAA, and the ABB together with BB. Both markers differentiated banana sections, but could not differentiate subspecies within the A genomic group. On the basis of CENH3 marker, a total of 13 haplotypes (five in both diploid and triploid, three in diploids, and rest unique to triploids) were identified from the genotypes tested. The presence of haplotypes, which were common in diploids and triploids, stipulate possibility of a shared ancestry in the genotypes involved in this study. Furthermore, the presence of multiple haplotypes in some diploid bananas indicates their being heterozygous. The haplotypes identified in this study are of importance because they can be used to check the level of homozygozity in breeding lines as well as to track segregation in progenies.

Rapid Increase in Genome Size as a Consequence of Transposable Element Hyperactivity in Wood-White ( Leptidea ) Butterflies


Characterizing and quantifying genome size variation among organisms and understanding if genome size evolves as a consequence of adaptive or stochastic processes have been long-standing goals in evolutionary biology. Here, we investigate genome size variation and association with transposable elements (TEs) across lepidopteran lineages using a novel genome assembly of the common wood-white (Leptidea sinapis) and population re-sequencing data from both L. sinapis and the closely related L. reali and L. juvernica together with 12 previously available lepidopteran genome assemblies. A phylogenetic analysis confirms established relationships among species, but identifies previously unknown intraspecific structure within Leptidea lineages. The genome assembly of L. sinapis is one of the largest of any lepidopteran taxon so far (643 Mb) and genome size is correlated with abundance of TEs, both in Lepidoptera in general and within Leptidea where L. juvernica from Kazakhstan has considerably larger genome size than any other Leptidea population. Specific TE subclasses have been active in different Lepidoptera lineages with a pronounced expansion of predominantly LINEs, DNA elements, and unclassified TEs in the Leptidea lineage after the split from other Pieridae. The rate of genome expansion in Leptidea in general has been in the range of four Mb/Million year (My), with an increase in a particular L. juvernica population to 72 Mb/My. The considerable differences in accumulation rates of specific TE classes in different lineages indicate that TE activity plays a major role in genome size evolution in butterflies and moths.

Northern Spotted Owl ( Strix occidentalis caurina ) Genome: Divergence with the Barred Owl ( Strix varia ) and Characterization of Light-Associated Genes


We report here the assembly of a northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) genome. We generated Illumina paired-end sequence data at 90× coverage using nine libraries with insert lengths ranging from ∼250 to 9,600 nt and read lengths from 100 to 375 nt. The genome assembly is comprised of 8,108 scaffolds totaling 1.26 × 109 nt in length with an N50 length of 3.98 × 106 nt. We calculated the genome-wide fixation index (FST) of S. o. caurina with the closely related barred owl (Strix varia) as 0.819. We examined 19 genes that encode proteins with light-dependent functions in our genome assembly as well as in that of the barn owl (Tyto alba). We present genomic evidence for loss of three of these in S. o. caurina and four in T. alba. We suggest that most light-associated gene functions have been maintained in owls and their loss has not proceeded to the same extent as in other dim-light-adapted vertebrates.

Switches in Genomic GC Content Drive Shifts of Optimal Codons under Sustained Selection on Synonymous Sites


The major codon preference model suggests that codons read by tRNAs in high concentrations are preferentially utilized in highly expressed genes. However, the identity of the optimal codons differs between species although the forces driving such changes are poorly understood. We suggest that these questions can be tackled by placing codon usage studies in a phylogenetic framework and that bacterial genomes with extreme nucleotide composition biases provide informative model systems. Switches in the background substitution biases from GC to AT have occurred in Gardnerella vaginalis (GC = 32%), and from AT to GC in Lactobacillus delbrueckii (GC = 62%) and Lactobacillus fermentum (GC = 63%). We show that despite the large effects on codon usage patterns by these switches, all three species evolve under selection on synonymous sites. In G. vaginalis, the dramatic codon frequency changes coincide with shifts of optimal codons. In contrast, the optimal codons have not shifted in the two Lactobacillus genomes despite an increased fraction of GC-ending codons. We suggest that all three species are in different phases of an on-going shift of optimal codons, and attribute the difference to a stronger background substitution bias and/or longer time since the switch in G. vaginalis. We show that comparative and correlative methods for optimal codon identification yield conflicting results for genomes in flux and discuss possible reasons for the mispredictions. We conclude that switches in the direction of the background substitution biases can drive major shifts in codon preference patterns even under sustained selection on synonymous codon sites.

Regular Higher Order Repeat Structures in Beetle Tribolium castaneum Genome


Higher order repeats (HORs) containing tandems of primary and secondary repeat units (head-to-tail “tandem within tandem pattern”), referred to as regular HORs, are typical for primate alpha satellite DNAs and most pronounced in human genome. Regular HORs are known to be a result of recent evolutionary processes. In non-primate genomes mostly so called complex HORs have been found, without head to tail tandem of primary repeat units. In beetle Tribolium castaneum, considered as a model case for genome studies, large tandem repeats have been identified, but no HORs have been reported. Here, using our novel robust repeat finding algorithm Global Repeat Map, we discover two regular and six complex HORs in T. castaneum. In organizational pattern, the integrity and homogeneity of regular HORs in T. castaneum resemble human regular HORs (with T. castaneum monomers different from human alpha satellite monomers), involving a wider range of monomer lengths than in human HORs. Similar regular higher order repeat structures have previously not been found in insects. Some of these novel HORs in T. castaneum appear as most regular among known HORs in non-primate genomes, although with substantial riddling. This is intriguing, in particular from the point of view of role of non-coding repeats in modulation of gene expression.