Joseph Felsenstein is Professor in the Departments of Genome Sciences and Biology and Adjunct Professor in the Departments of Computer Science and Statistics at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is best known for his work on phylogenetic inference, and is the author of Inferring Phylogenies, and principal author and distributor of the package of phylogenetic inference programs called PHYLIP, and is currently serving as the President of the Society for Molecular Biology & Evolution.

You can reach Joe at president.smbe@gmail.com

James McInerney is the principle investigator of the Bioinformatics and Molecular Evolution Laboratories at NUI Maynooth. He was one of the founding directors of the Irish Centre for High End Computing, an Associate Editor of Molecular Biology and Evolution, Biology Direct, and Journal of Experimental Zoology, and is currently serving as the Secretary for the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.

You can reach James at secretary.smbe@gmail.com

Juliette de Meaux is interested in the molecular basis of Darwinian adaptation in natural plant systems. Her works combines the approaches of population, quantitative and molecular genetics to dissect the underpinning of adaptive changes. She completed her PhD at AgroParisTech, under the supervision of Prof. Claire Neema and studied the molecular basis of host-pathogen coevolution in natural populations of common bean. She then spent her Postdoc time in the lab of Prof. Tom Mitchell-Olds at the Max Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology in Jena and worked on the evolution of cis-regulatory DNA. Since 2005, she runs her own lab, first at the Max Planck Institute of Plant Breeding in Cologne and then at the University of Münster. In January 2015, she relocated her lab at the University of Cologne. She is currently serving as the Treasurer for the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.

You can reach Juliette at treasurer.smbe@gmail.com

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The Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution is an international organization whose goals are to provide facilities for association and communication among molecular evolutionists and to further the goals of molecular evolution, as well as its practitioners and teachers. In order to accomplish these goals, the Society publishes two peer-reviewed journals, Molecular Biology and Evolution and Genome Biology and Evolution. The Society sponsors an annual meeting, as well as smaller satellite meetings or workshop on important, focused, and timely topics. It also confers honors and awards to students and researchers.

SMBE 2018

It is our pleasure to invite you to attend SMBE 2018 - the annual meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution. SMBE 2018 will be held from the 8th to the 12th of July in Yokohama, Japan. SMBE 2018 at Yokohama is to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the landmark paper by Kimura (1968) who proposed the neutral theory of molecular evolution. The meeting - including plenary talks, symposia presentations, the Walter Fitch symposium, and poster sessions - will showcase the latest research in genomics, population genetics, and molecular biology and evolution. 

More information can be found HERE

 



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MBE | Most Read

Molecular Biology and Evolution

MEGA Software Celebrates Silver Anniversary

Wed, 16 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

In the past 25 years, stretching from the dawn of personal computing to the social media age, the “always free” molecular evolutionary genetics analysis (MEGA) tool has been downloaded 1.6 million times worldwide.

Neutral Theory and the Somatic Evolution of Cancer

Mon, 14 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Vincent L. Cannataro and Jeffrey P. Townsend

Nonequilibrium Neutral Theory for Hitchhikers

Wed, 02 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Selective sweep is a phenomenon of reduced variation at presumably neutrally evolving sites (hitchhikers) in the genome that is caused by the spread of a selected allele at a linked focal site, and is widely used to test for action of positive selection. Nonetheless, selective sweep may also provide an unprecedented opportunity for studying nonequilibrium properties of the neutral variation itself. We have demonstrated this possibility in relation to ancient selective sweep for modern human-specific changes and ongoing selective sweep for local population-specific changes.

MEGA X: Molecular Evolutionary Genetics Analysis across Computing Platforms

Wed, 02 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
The Molecular Evolutionary Genetics Analysis (Mega) software implements many analytical methods and tools for phylogenomics and phylomedicine. Here, we report a transformation of Mega to enable cross-platform use on Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Mega X does not require virtualization or emulation software and provides a uniform user experience across platforms. Mega X has additionally been upgraded to use multiple computing cores for many molecular evolutionary analyses. Mega X is available in two interfaces (graphical and command line) and can be downloaded from www.megasoftware.net free of charge.

The Neutral Theory in Light of Natural Selection

Wed, 02 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
In this perspective, we evaluate the explanatory power of the neutral theory of molecular evolution, 50 years after its introduction by Kimura. We argue that the neutral theory was supported by unreliable theoretical and empirical evidence from the beginning, and that in light of modern, genome-scale data, we can firmly reject its universality. The ubiquity of adaptive variation both within and between species means that a more comprehensive theory of molecular evolution must be sought.

Neutral Theory in Cancer Cell Population Genetics

Fri, 27 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Kimura’s neutral theory provides the whole theoretical basis of the behavior of mutations in a Wright–Fisher population. We here discuss how it can be applied to a cancer cell population, in which there is an increasing interest in genetic variation within a tumor. We explain a couple of fundamental differences between cancer cell populations and asexual organismal populations. Once these differences are taken into account, a number of powerful theoretical tools developed for a Wright–Fisher population could be readily contribute to our deeper understanding of the evolutionary dynamics of cancer cell population.

The Puzzle of HIV Neutral and Selective Evolution

Fri, 27 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
HIV is one of the fastest evolving organisms known. It evolves about 1 million times faster than its host, humans. Because HIV establishes chronic infections, with continuous evolution, its divergence within a single infected human surpasses the divergence of the entire humanoid history. Yet, it is still the same virus, infecting the same cell types and using the same replication machinery year after year. Hence, one would think that most mutations that HIV accumulates are neutral. But the picture is more complicated than that. HIV evolution is also a clear example of strong positive selection, that is, mutants have a survival advantage. How do these facts come together?

Chance, Finiteness, and History

Tue, 24 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Importance of chance, finiteness, and history in evolution is pointed out with special reference to the neutral theory.

Neutral Theory and Rapidly Evolving Viral Pathogens

Tue, 24 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
The evolution of viral pathogens is shaped by strong selective forces that are exerted during jumps to new hosts, confrontations with host immune responses and antiviral drugs, and numerous other processes. However, while undeniably strong and frequent, adaptive evolution is largely confined to small parts of information-packed viral genomes, and the majority of observed variation is effectively neutral. The predictions and implications of the neutral theory have proven immensely useful in this context, with applications spanning understanding within-host population structure, tracing the origins and spread of viral pathogens, predicting evolutionary dynamics, and modeling the emergence of drug resistance. We highlight the multiple ways in which the neutral theory has had an impact, which has been accelerated in the age of high-throughput, high-resolution genomics.

Biology Needs Evolutionary Software Tools: Let’s Build Them Right

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Research in population genetics and evolutionary biology has always provided a computational backbone for life sciences as a whole. Today evolutionary and population biology reasoning are essential for interpretation of large complex datasets that are characteristic of all domains of today’s life sciences ranging from cancer biology to microbial ecology. This situation makes algorithms and software tools developed by our community more important than ever before. This means that we, developers of software tool for molecular evolutionary analyses, now have a shared responsibility to make these tools accessible using modern technological developments as well as provide adequate documentation and training.

Neutral Theory, Disease Mutations, and Personal Exomes

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Genetic differences between species and within populations are two sides of the same coin under the neutral theory of molecular evolution. This theory posits that a vast majority of evolutionary substitutions, which appear as differences between species, are (nearly) neutral, that is, these substitutions are permitted without a significantly adverse impact on a species’ survival. We refer to them as evolutionarily permissible (ePerm) variation. Evolutionary permissibility of any possible variant can be inferred from multispecies sequence alignments by applying sophisticated statistical methods to the evolutionary tree of species. Here, we explore the evolutionary permissibility of amino acid variants associated with genetic diseases and those observed in personal exomes. Consistent with the predictions of the neutral theory, disease associated amino acid variants are rarely ePerm, much more biochemically radical, and found predominantly at more conserved positions than their non-disease counterparts. Only 10% of amino acid mutations are ePerm, but these variants rise to become two-thirds of all substitutions in the human lineage (a 6-fold enrichment). In contrast, only a minority of the variants in a personal exome are ePerm, a seemingly counterintuitive pattern that results from a combination of mutational and evolutionary processes that are, in fact, broadly consistent with the neutral theory. Evolutionarily forbidden variants outnumber detrimental variants in individual exomes and may play an underappreciated role in protecting against disease. We discuss these observations and conclude that the long-term evolutionary history of species can illuminate functional biomedical properties of variation present in personal exomes.

Neutral Theory, Transposable Elements, and Eukaryotic Genome Evolution

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Among the multitude of papers published yearly in scientific journals, precious few publications may be worth looking back in half a century to appreciate the significance of the discoveries that would later become common knowledge and get a chance to shape a field or several adjacent fields. Here, Kimura’s fundamental concept of neutral mutation-random drift, which was published 50 years ago, is re-examined in light of its pervasive influence on comparative genomics and, more specifically, on the contribution of transposable elements to eukaryotic genome evolution.

Neutral Theory, Microbial Practice: Challenges in Bacterial Population Genetics

Thu, 19 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
I detail four major open problems in microbial population genetics with direct implications to the study of molecular evolution: the lack of neutral polymorphism, the modeling of promiscuous genetic exchanges, the genetics of ill-defined populations, and the difficulty of untangling selection and demography in the light of these issues. Together with the historical focus on the study of single nucleotide polymorphism and widespread non-random sampling, these problems limit our understanding of the genetic variation in bacterial populations and their adaptive effects. I argue that we need novel theoretical approaches accounting for pervasive selection and strong genetic linkage to better understand microbial evolution.

Neutral Theory and the Somatic Evolution of Cancer

Thu, 19 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Kimura’s neutral theory argued that positive selection was not responsible for an appreciable fraction of molecular substitutions. Correspondingly, quantitative analysis reveals that the vast majority of substitutions in cancer genomes are not detectably under selection. Insights from the somatic evolution of cancer reveal that beneficial substitutions in cancer constitute a small but important fraction of the molecular variants. The molecular evolution of cancer community will benefit by incorporating the neutral theory of molecular evolution into their understanding and analysis of cancer evolution—and accepting the use of tractable, predictive models, even when there is some evidence that they are not perfect.

Neutral Theory Is the Foundation of Conservation Genetics

Mon, 16 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Kimura’s neutral theory of molecular evolution has been essential to virtually every advance in evolutionary genetics, and by extension, is foundational to the field of conservation genetics. Conservation genetics utilizes the key concepts of neutral theory to identify species and populations at risk of losing evolutionary potential by detecting patterns of inbreeding depression and low effective population size. In turn, this information can inform the management of organisms and their habitat providing hope for the long-term preservation of both. We expand upon Avise’s “inventorial” and “functional” categories of conservation genetics by proposing a third category that is linked to the coalescent and that we refer to as “process-driven.” It is here that connections between Kimura’s theory and conservation genetics are strongest. Process-driven conservation genetics can be especially applied to large genomic data sets to identify patterns of historical risk, such as population bottlenecks, and accordingly, yield informed intuitions for future outcomes. By examining inventorial, functional, and process-driven conservation genetics in sequence, we assess the progression from theory, to data collection and analysis, and ultimately, to the production of hypotheses that can inform conservation policies.

DAMBE7: New and Improved Tools for Data Analysis in Molecular Biology and Evolution

Sat, 14 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
DAMBE is a comprehensive software package for genomic and phylogenetic data analysis on Windows, Linux, and Macintosh computers. New functions include imputing missing distances and phylogeny simultaneously (paving the way to build large phage and transposon trees), new bootstrapping/jackknifing methods for PhyPA (phylogenetics from pairwise alignments), and an improved function for fast and accurate estimation of the shape parameter of the gamma distribution for fitting rate heterogeneity over sites. Previous method corrects multiple hits for each site independently. DAMBE’s new method uses all sites simultaneously for correction. DAMBE, featuring a user-friendly graphic interface, is freely available from http://dambe.bio.uottawa.ca (last accessed, April 17, 2018).

MitoFish and MiFish Pipeline: A Mitochondrial Genome Database of Fish with an Analysis Pipeline for Environmental DNA Metabarcoding

Sat, 14 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Fish mitochondrial genome (mitogenome) data form a fundamental basis for revealing vertebrate evolution and hydrosphere ecology. Here, we report recent functional updates of MitoFish, which is a database of fish mitogenomes with a precise annotation pipeline MitoAnnotator. Most importantly, we describe implementation of MiFish pipeline for metabarcoding analysis of fish mitochondrial environmental DNA, which is a fast-emerging and powerful technology in fish studies. MitoFish, MitoAnnotator, and MiFish pipeline constitute a key platform for studies of fish evolution, ecology, and conservation, and are freely available at http://mitofish.aori.u-tokyo.ac.jp/ (last accessed April 7th, 2018).

Neutral Theory: From Complex Population History to Natural Selection and Sociocultural Phenomena in Human Populations

Wed, 11 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Here, we present a synthetic view on how Kimura’s Neutral theory has helped us gaining insight on the different evolutionary forces that shape human evolution. We put this perspective in the frame of recent emerging challenges: the use of whole genome data for reconstructing population histories, natural selection on complex polygenic traits, and integrating cultural processes in human evolution.

Acceleration of Olfactory Receptor Gene Loss in Primate Evolution: Possible Link to Anatomical Change in Sensory Systems and Dietary Transition

Tue, 10 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Primates have traditionally been regarded as vision-oriented animals with low olfactory ability, though this “microsmatic primates” view has been challenged recently. To clarify when and how degeneration of the olfactory system occurred and to specify the relevant factors during primate evolution, we here examined the olfactory receptor (OR) genes from 24 phylogenetically and ecologically diverse primate species. The results revealed that strepsirrhines with curved noses had functional OR gene repertoires that were nearly twice as large as those for haplorhines with simple noses. Neither activity pattern (nocturnal/diurnal) nor color vision system showed significant correlation with the number of functional OR genes while phylogeny and nose structure (haplorhine/strepsirrhine) are statistically controlled, but extent of folivory did. We traced the evolutionary fates of individual OR genes by identifying orthologous gene groups, demonstrating that the rates of OR gene losses were accelerated at the ancestral branch of haplorhines, which coincided with the acquisition of acute vision. The highest rate of OR gene loss was observed at the ancestral branch of leaf-eating colobines; this reduction is possibly linked with the dietary transition from frugivory to folivory because odor information is essential for fruit foraging but less so for leaf foraging. Intriguingly, we found accelerations of OR gene losses in an external branch to every hominoid species examined. These findings suggest that the current OR gene repertoire in each species has been shaped by a complex interplay of phylogeny, anatomy, and habitat; therefore, multiple factors may contribute to the olfactory degeneration in primates.

Neutral Theory and Phenotypic Evolution

Thu, 05 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Although the neutral theory of molecular evolution was proposed to explain DNA and protein sequence evolution, in principle it could also explain phenotypic evolution. Nevertheless, overall, phenotypes should be less likely than genotypes to evolve neutrally. I propose that, when phenotypic traits are stratified according to a hierarchy of biological organization, the fraction of evolutionary changes in phenotype that are adaptive rises with the phenotypic level considered. Consistently, molecular traits are frequently found to evolve neutrally whereas a large, random set of organismal traits were recently reported to vary largely adaptively. Many more studies of unbiased samples of phenotypic traits are needed to test the general validity of this hypothesis.

Neutral Variation in the Context of Selection

Wed, 04 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
In its initial formulation by Motoo Kimura, the neutral theory was concerned solely with the level of variability maintained by random genetic drift of selectively neutral mutations, and the rate of molecular evolution caused by the fixation of such mutations. The original theory considered events at a single genetic locus in isolation from the rest of the genome. It did not take long, however, for theoreticians to wonder whether selection at one or more loci might influence neutral variability at linked sites. Once DNA sequence variability could be studied, and especially when resequencing of whole genomes became possible, it became clear that patterns of neutral variability in genomes are affected by selection at linked sites, and that these patterns could advance our understanding of natural selection, and can be used to detect the action of selection in genomic regions, including selection much weaker than could be detected by direct measurements of the relative fitnesses of different genotypes. We outline the different types of processes that have been studied, in approximate order of their historical development.

New Methods for Inferring the Distribution of Fitness Effects for INDELs and SNPs

Wed, 04 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Small insertions and deletions (INDELs; ≤50 bp) are the most common type of variability after single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP). However, compared with SNPs, we know little about the distribution of fitness effects (DFE) of new INDEL mutations and how prevalent adaptive INDEL substitutions are. Studying INDELs has been difficult partly because identifying ancestral states at these sites is error-prone and misidentification can lead to severely biased estimates of the strength of selection. To solve these problems, we develop new maximum likelihood methods, which use polymorphism data to simultaneously estimate the DFE, the mutation rate, and the misidentification rate. These methods are applicable to both INDELs and SNPs. Simulations show that they can provide highly accurate results. We applied the methods to an INDEL polymorphism data set in Drosophila melanogaster. We found that the DFE for polymorphic INDELs in protein-coding regions is bimodal, with the variants being either nearly neutral or strongly deleterious. Based on the DFE, we estimated that 71.5–83.7% of the INDEL substitutions that took place along the D. melanogaster lineage were fixed by positive selection, which is comparable with the prevalence of adaptive substitutions at nonsynonymous sites. The new methods have been implemented in the software package anavar.

An Evaluation of Function of Multicopy Noncoding RNAs in Mammals Using ENCODE/FANTOM Data and Comparative Genomics

Tue, 03 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Mammalian diversification has coincided with a rapid proliferation of various types of noncoding RNAs, including members of both snRNAs and snoRNAs. The significance of this expansion however remains obscure. While some ncRNA copy-number expansions have been linked to functionally tractable effects, such events may equally likely be neutral, perhaps as a result of random retrotransposition. Hindering progress in our understanding of such observations is the difficulty in establishing function for the diverse features that have been identified in our own genome. Projects such as ENCODE and FANTOM have revealed a hidden world of genomic expression patterns, as well as a host of other potential indicators of biological function. However, such projects have been criticized, particularly from practitioners in the field of molecular evolution, where many suspect these data provide limited insight into biological function. The molecular evolution community has largely taken a skeptical view, thus it is important to establish tests of function. We use a range of data, including data drawn from ENCODE and FANTOM, to examine the case for function for the recent copy number expansion in mammals of six evolutionarily ancient RNA families involved in splicing and rRNA maturation. We use several criteria to assess evidence for function: conservation of sequence and structure, genomic synteny, evidence for transposition, and evidence for species-specific expression. Applying these criteria, we find that only a minority of loci show strong evidence for function and that, for the majority, we cannot reject the null hypothesis of no function.

Genomics of Parallel Ecological Speciation in Lake Victoria Cichlids

Mon, 02 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
The genetic basis of parallel evolution of similar species is of great interest in evolutionary biology. In the adaptive radiation of Lake Victoria cichlid fishes, sister species with either blue or red-back male nuptial coloration have evolved repeatedly, often associated with shallower and deeper water, respectively. One such case is blue and red-backed Pundamilia species, for which we recently showed that a young species pair may have evolved through “hybrid parallel speciation”. Coalescent simulations suggested that the older species P. pundamilia (blue) and P. nyererei (red-back) admixed in the Mwanza Gulf and that new “nyererei-like” and “pundamilia-like” species evolved from the admixed population. Here, we use genome scans to study the genomic architecture of differentiation, and assess the influence of hybridization on the evolution of the younger species pair. For each of the two species pairs, we find over 300 genomic regions, widespread across the genome, which are highly differentiated. A subset of the most strongly differentiated regions of the older pair are also differentiated in the younger pair. These shared differentiated regions often show parallel allele frequency differences, consistent with the hypothesis that admixture-derived alleles were targeted by divergent selection in the hybrid population. However, two-thirds of the genomic regions that are highly differentiated between the younger species are not highly differentiated between the older species, suggesting independent evolutionary responses to selection pressures. Our analyses reveal how divergent selection on admixture-derived genetic variation can facilitate new speciation events.

Detecting Signatures of Positive Selection along Defined Branches of a Population Tree Using LSD

Thu, 29 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Identifying the genomic basis underlying local adaptation is paramount to evolutionary biology, and bears many applications in the fields of conservation biology, crop, and animal breeding, as well as personalized medicine. Although many approaches have been developed to detect signatures of positive selection within single populations and population pairs, the increasing wealth of high-throughput sequencing data requires improved methods capable of handling multiple, and ideally large number of, populations in a single analysis. In this study, we introduce LSD (levels of exclusively shared differences), a fast and flexible framework to perform genome-wide selection scans, along the internal and external branches of a given population tree. We use forward simulations to demonstrate that LSD can identify branches targeted by positive selection with remarkable sensitivity and specificity. We illustrate a range of potential applications by analyzing data from the 1000 Genomes Project and uncover a list of adaptive candidates accompanying the expansion of anatomically modern humans out of Africa and their spread to Europe.

Multiple Factors Confounding Phylogenetic Detection of Selection on Codon Usage

Tue, 27 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Detecting selection on codon usage (CU) is a difficult task, since CU can be shaped by both the mutational process and selective constraints operating at the DNA, RNA, and protein levels. Yang and Nielsen (2008) developed a test (which we call CUYN) for detecting selection on CU using two competing mutation-selection models of codon substitution. The null model assumes that CU is determined by the mutation bias alone, whereas the alternative model assumes that both mutation bias and/or selection act on CU. In applications on mammalian-scale alignments, the CUYN test detects selection on CU for numerous genes. This is surprising, given the small effective population size of mammals, and prompted us to use simulations to evaluate the robustness of the test to model violations. Simulations using a modest level of CpG hypermutability completely mislead the test, with 100% false positives. Surprisingly, a high level of false positives (56.1%) resulted simply from using the HKY mutation-level parameterization within the CUYN test on simulations conducted with a GTR mutation-level parameterization. Finally, by using a crude optimization procedure on a parameter controlling the CpG hypermutability rate, we find that this mutational property could explain a very large part of the observed mammalian CU. Altogether, our work emphasizes the need to evaluate the potential impact of model violations on statistical tests in the field of molecular phylogenetic analysis. The source code of the simulator and the mammalian genes used are available as a GitHub repository (https://github.com/Simonll/LikelihoodFreePhylogenetics.git).

Phenomenological Load on Model Parameters Can Lead to False Biological Conclusions

Tue, 27 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
When a substitution model is fitted to an alignment using maximum likelihood, its parameters are adjusted to account for as much site-pattern variation as possible. A parameter might therefore absorb a substantial quantity of the total variance in an alignment (or more formally, bring about a substantial reduction in the deviance of the fitted model) even if the process it represents played no role in the generation of the data. When this occurs, we say that the parameter estimate carries phenomenological load (PL). Large PL in a parameter estimate is a concern because it not only invalidates its mechanistic interpretation (if it has one) but also increases the likelihood that it will be found to be statistically significant. The problem of PL was not identified in the past because most off-the-shelf substitution models make simplifying assumptions that preclude the generation of realistic levels of variation. In this study, we use the more realistic mutation-selection framework as the basis of a generating model formulated to produce data that mimic an alignment of mammalian mitochondrial DNA. We show that a parameter estimate can carry PL when 1) the substitution model is underspecified and 2) the parameter represents a process that is confounded with other processes represented in the data-generating model. We then provide a method that can be used to identify signal for the process that a given parameter represents despite the existence of PL.

The Birth and Death of Olfactory Receptor Gene Families in Mammalian Niche Adaptation

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
The olfactory receptor (OR) gene families, which govern mammalian olfaction, have undergone extensive expansion and contraction through duplication and pseudogenization. Previous studies have shown that broadly defined environmental adaptations (e.g., terrestrial vs. aquatic) are correlated with the number of functional and non-functional OR genes retained. However, to date, no study has examined species-specific gene duplications in multiple phylogenetically divergent mammals to elucidate OR evolution and adaptation. Here, we identify the OR gene families driving adaptation to different ecological niches by mapping the fate of species-specific gene duplications in the OR repertoire of 94 diverse mammalian taxa, using molecular phylogenomic methods. We analyze >70,000 OR gene sequences mined from whole genomes, generated from novel amplicon sequencing data, and collated with data from previous studies, comprising one of the largest OR studies to date. For the first time, we demonstrate statistically significant patterns of OR species-specific gene duplications associated with the presence of a functioning vomeronasal organ. With respect to dietary niche, we uncover a novel link between a large number of duplications in OR family 5/8/9 and herbivory. Our results also highlight differences between social and solitary niches, indicating that a greater OR repertoire expansion may be associated with a solitary lifestyle. This study demonstrates the utility of species-specific duplications in elucidating gene family evolution, revealing how the OR repertoire has undergone expansion and contraction with respect to a number of ecological adaptations in mammals.

A Model-Based Approach for Identifying Functional Intergenic Transcribed Regions and Noncoding RNAs

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
With advances in transcript profiling, the presence of transcriptional activities in intergenic regions has been well established. However, whether intergenic expression reflects transcriptional noise or activity of novel genes remains unclear. We identified intergenic transcribed regions (ITRs) in 15 diverse flowering plant species and found that the amount of intergenic expression correlates with genome size, a pattern that could be expected if intergenic expression is largely nonfunctional. To further assess the functionality of ITRs, we first built machine learning models using Arabidopsis thaliana as a model that accurately distinguish functional sequences (benchmark protein-coding and RNA genes) and likely nonfunctional ones (pseudogenes and unexpressed intergenic regions) by integrating 93 biochemical, evolutionary, and sequence-structure features. Next, by applying the models genome-wide, we found that 4,427 ITRs (38%) and 796 annotated ncRNAs (44%) had features significantly similar to benchmark protein-coding or RNA genes and thus were likely parts of functional genes. Approximately 60% of ITRs and ncRNAs were more similar to nonfunctional sequences and were likely transcriptional noise. The predictive framework established here provides not only a comprehensive look at how functional, genic sequences are distinct from likely nonfunctional ones, but also a new way to differentiate novel genes from genomic regions with noisy transcriptional activities.

Evidence of Signaling and Adhesion Roles for β-Catenin in the Sponge Ephydatia muelleri

Wed, 07 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
β-Catenin acts as a transcriptional coactivator in the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway and a cytoplasmic effector in cadherin-based cell adhesion. These functions are ancient within animals, but the earliest steps in β-catenin evolution remain unresolved due to limited data from key lineages—sponges, ctenophores, and placozoans. Previous studies in sponges have characterized β-catenin expression dynamics and used GSK3B antagonists to ectopically activate the Wnt/β-catenin pathway; both approaches rely upon untested assumptions about the conservation of β-catenin function and regulation in sponges. Here, we test these assumptions using an antibody raised against β-catenin from the sponge Ephydatia muelleri. We find that cadherin-complex genes coprecipitate with endogenous Em β-catenin from cell lysates, but that Wnt pathway components do not. However, through immunostaining we detect both cell boundary and nuclear populations, and we find evidence that Em β-catenin is a conserved substrate of GSK3B. Collectively, these data support conserved roles for Em β-catenin in both cell adhesion and Wnt signaling. Additionally, we find evidence for an Em β-catenin population associated with the distal ends of F-actin stress fibers in apparent cell–substrate adhesion structures that resemble focal adhesions. This finding suggests a fundamental difference in the adhesion properties of sponge tissues relative to other animals, in which the adhesion functions of β-catenin are typically restricted to cell–cell adhesions.

Network Analysis of Protein Adaptation: Modeling the Functional Impact of Multiple Mutations

Wed, 07 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
The evolution of new biochemical activities frequently involves complex dependencies between mutations and rapid evolutionary radiation. Mutation co-occurrence and covariation have previously been used to identify compensating mutations that are the result of physical contacts and preserve protein function and fold. Here, we model pairwise functional dependencies and higher order interactions that enable evolution of new protein functions. We use a network model to find complex dependencies between mutations resulting from evolutionary trade-offs and pleiotropic effects. We present a method to construct these networks and to identify functionally interacting mutations in both extant and reconstructed ancestral sequences (Network Analysis of Protein Adaptation). The time ordering of mutations can be incorporated into the networks through phylogenetic reconstruction. We apply NAPA to three distantly homologous β-lactamase protein clusters (TEM, CTX-M-3, and OXA-51), each of which has experienced recent evolutionary radiation under substantially different selective pressures. By analyzing the network properties of each protein cluster, we identify key adaptive mutations, positive pairwise interactions, different adaptive solutions to the same selective pressure, and complex evolutionary trajectories likely to increase protein fitness. We also present evidence that incorporating information from phylogenetic reconstruction and ancestral sequence inference can reduce the number of spurious links in the network, whereas preserving overall network community structure. The analysis does not require structural or biochemical data. In contrast to function-preserving mutation dependencies, which are frequently from structural contacts, gain-of-function mutation dependencies are most commonly between residues distal in protein structure.

Shifts in Selective Pressures on Snake Phototransduction Genes Associated with Photoreceptor Transmutation and Dim-Light Ancestry

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
The visual systems of snakes are heavily modified relative to other squamates, a condition often thought to reflect their fossorial origins. Further modifications are seen in caenophidian snakes, where evolutionary transitions between rod and cone photoreceptors, termed photoreceptor transmutations, have occurred in many lineages. Little previous work, however, has focused on the molecular evolutionary underpinnings of these morphological changes. To address this, we sequenced seven snake eye transcriptomes and utilized new whole-genome and targeted capture sequencing data. We used these data to analyze gene loss and shifts in selection pressures in phototransduction genes that may be associated with snake evolutionary origins and photoreceptor transmutation. We identified the surprising loss of rhodopsin kinase (GRK1), despite a low degree of gene loss overall and a lack of relaxed selection early during snake evolution. These results provide some of the first evolutionary genomic corroboration for a dim-light ancestor that lacks strong fossorial adaptations. Our results also indicate that snakes with photoreceptor transmutation experienced significantly different selection pressures from other reptiles. Significant positive selection was found primarily in cone-specific genes, but not rod-specific genes, contrary to our expectations. These results reveal potential molecular adaptations associated with photoreceptor transmutation and also highlight unappreciated functional differences between rod- and cone-specific phototransduction proteins. This intriguing example of snake visual system evolution illustrates how the underlying molecular components of a complex system can be reshaped in response to changing selection pressures.

GBE | Most Read

Genome Biology & Evolution

Highlight: Big Surprises from the World’s Smallest Fish

Thu, 12 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

In the murky blackwaters of the peat swamp forests of Southeast Asia lives the world’s smallest fish, the dwarf minnow of the genus Paedocypris. This extreme environment, characterized by low oxygen and high acidity, is home to several miniaturized fish species. Paedocypris adults are a mere 8–12 mm in length and resemble zebrafish larvae, a phenomenon known as progenesis. In the case of Paedocypris, this developmental truncation is extreme, with over 40 bones found in zebrafish adults that never develop at all in Paedocypris.

Complete Genome Sequences of Seven Vibrio anguillarum Strains as Derived from PacBio Sequencing

Sat, 07 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
We report here the complete genome sequences of seven Vibrio anguillarum strains isolated from multiple geographic locations, thus increasing the total number of genomes of finished quality to 11. The genomes were de novo assembled from long-sequence PacBio reads. Including draft genomes, a total of 44 V. anguillarum genomes are currently available in the genome databases. They represent an important resource in the study of, for example, genetic variations and for identifying virulence determinants. In this article, we present the genomes and basic genome comparisons of the 11 complete genomes, including a BRIG analysis, and pan genome calculation. We also describe some structural features of superintegrons on chromosome 2 s, and associated insertion sequence (IS) elements, including 18 new ISs (ISVa3 − ISVa20), both of importance in the complement of V. anguillarum genomes.

Determinants of the efficacy of natural selection on coding and noncoding variability in two passerine species

Fri, 06 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Pádraic Corcoran, Toni I. Gossmann, Henry J. Barton, The Great Tit HapMap Consortium, Jon Slate, and Kai Zeng

The Novel Evolution of the Sperm Whale Genome

Fri, 06 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Wesley C. Warren, Lukas Kuderna, Alana Alexander, Julian Catchen, José G. Pérez-Silva, Carlos López-Otín, Víctor Quesada, Patrick Minx, Chad Tomlinson, Michael J. Montague, Fabiana H.G. Farias, Ronald B. Walter, Tomas Marques-Bonet, Travis Glenn, Troy J. Kieran, Sandra S. Wise, John Pierce Wise Jr, Robert M. Waterhouse, John Pierce Wise Sr

The Genome Sequence of “Candidatus Fokinia solitaria”: Insights on Reductive Evolution in Rickettsiales

Thu, 05 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Candidatus Fokinia solitaria” is an obligate intracellular endosymbiont of a unicellular eukaryote, a ciliate of the genus Paramecium. Here, we present the genome sequence of this bacterium and subsequent analysis. Phylogenomic analysis confirmed the previously reported positioning of the symbiont within the “Candidatus Midichloriaceae” family (order Rickettsiales), as well as its high sequence divergence from other members of the family, indicative of fast sequence evolution. Consistently with this high evolutionary rate, a comparative genomic analysis revealed that the genome of this symbiont is the smallest of the Rickettsiales to date. The reduced genome does not present flagellar genes, nor the pathway for the biosynthesis of lipopolysaccharides (present in all the other so far sequenced members of the family “Candidatus Midichloriaceae”) or genes for the Krebs cycle (present, although not always complete, in Rickettsiales). These results indicate an evolutionary trend toward a stronger dependence on the host, in comparison with other members of the family. Two alternative scenarios are compatible with our results; “Candidatus Fokinia solitaria” could be either a recently evolved, vertically transmitted mutualist, or a parasite with a high host-specificity.

Genes from the TAS1R and TAS2R Families of Taste Receptors: Looking for Signatures of Their Adaptive Role in Human Evolution

Wed, 04 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Taste perception is crucial in monitoring food intake and, hence, is thought to play a significant role in human evolution. To gain insights into possible adaptive signatures in genes encoding bitter, sweet, and umami taste receptors, we surveyed the available sequence variation data from the 1000 Genomes Project Phase 3 for TAS1R (TAS1R1-3) and TAS2R (TAS2R16 and TAS2R38) families. Our study demonstrated that genes from these two families have experienced contrasting evolutionary histories: While TAS1R1 and TAS1R3 showed worldwide evidence of positive selection, probably correlated with improved umami and sweet perception, the patterns of variation displayed by TAS2R16 and TAS2R38 were more consistent with scenarios of balancing selection that possibly conferred a heterozygous advantage associated with better capacity to perceive a wide range of bitter compounds. In TAS2R16, such adaptive events appear to have occurred restrictively in mainland Africa, whereas the strongest evidence in TAS2R38 was detected in Europe. Despite plausible associations between taste perception and the TAS1R and TAS2R selective signatures, we cannot discount other biological mechanisms as driving the evolutionary trajectories of those TAS1R and TAS2R members, especially given recent findings of taste receptors behaving as the products of pleiotropic genes involved in many functions outside the gustatory system.

Selection in the Introgressed Regions of the Chimpanzee Genome

Wed, 04 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
During the demographic history of the Pan clade, there has been gene-flow between species, likely >200,000 years ago. Bonobo haplotypes in three subspecies of chimpanzee have been identified to be segregating in modern-day chimpanzee populations, suggesting that these haplotypes, with increased differentiation, may be a target of natural selection. Here, we investigate signatures of adaptive introgression within the bonobo-like haplotypes in chimpanzees using site frequency spectrum-based tests. We find evidence for subspecies-specific adaptations in introgressed regions involved with male reproduction in central chimpanzees, the immune system in eastern chimpanzees, female reproduction and the nervous system in Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees. Furthermore, our results indicate signatures of balancing selection in some of the putatively introgressed regions. This might be the product of long-term balancing selection resulting in a similar genomic signature as introgression, or possibly balancing selection acting on alleles reintroduced through gene flow.

Influence of Electron–Holes on DNA Sequence-Specific Mutation Rates

Wed, 21 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Biases in mutation rate can influence molecular evolution, yielding rates of evolution that vary widely in different parts of the genome and even among neighboring nucleotides. Here, we explore one possible mechanism of influence on sequence-specific mutation rates, the electron–hole, which can localize and potentially trigger a replication mismatch. A hole is a mobile site of positive charge created during one-electron oxidation by, for example, radiation, contact with a mutagenic agent, or oxidative stress. Its quantum wavelike properties cause it to localize at various sites with probabilities that vary widely, by orders of magnitude, and depend strongly on the local sequence. We find significant correlations between hole probabilities and mutation rates within base triplets, observed in published mutation accumulation experiments on four species of bacteria. We have also computed hole probability spectra for hypervariable segment I of the human mtDNA control region, which contains several mutational hotspots, and for heptanucleotides in noncoding regions of the human genome, whose polymorphism levels have recently been reported. We observe significant correlations between hole probabilities, and context-specific mutation and substitution rates. The correlation with hole probability cannot be explained entirely by CpG methylation in the heptanucleotide data. Peaks in hole probability tend to coincide with mutational hotspots, even in mtDNA where CpG methylation is rare. Our results suggest that hole-enhanced mutational mechanisms, such as oxidation-stabilized tautomerization and base deamination, contribute to molecular evolution.

Homologous Recombination and Transposon Propagation Shape the Population Structure of an Organism from the Deep Subsurface with Minimal Metabolism

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
DPANN archaea are primarily known based on genomes from metagenomes and single cells. We reconstructed a complete population genome for Candidatus “Forterrea,” a Diapherotrite with a predicted symbiotic lifestyle probably centered around nucleotide metabolism and RuBisCO. Genome-wide analysis of sequence variation provided insights into the processes that shape its population structure in the deep subsurface. The genome contains many transposons, yet reconstruction of a complete genome from a short-read insert data set was possible because most occurred only in some individuals. Accuracy of the final reconstruction could be verified because the genome displays the pattern of cumulative GC skew known for some archaea but more typically associated with bacteria. Sequence variation is highly localized, and most pronounced around transposons and relatively close to the origin of replication. Patterns of variation are best explained by homologous recombination, a process previously not described for DPANN archaea.

Large Diversity of Nonstandard Genes and Dynamic Evolution of Chloroplast Genomes in Siphonous Green Algae (Bryopsidales, Chlorophyta)

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Chloroplast genomes have undergone tremendous alterations through the evolutionary history of the green algae (Chloroplastida). This study focuses on the evolution of chloroplast genomes in the siphonous green algae (order Bryopsidales). We present five new chloroplast genomes, which along with existing sequences, yield a data set representing all but one families of the order. Using comparative phylogenetic methods, we investigated the evolutionary dynamics of genomic features in the order. Our results show extensive variation in chloroplast genome architecture and intron content. Variation in genome size is accounted for by the amount of intergenic space and freestanding open reading frames that do not show significant homology to standard plastid genes. We show the diversity of these nonstandard genes based on their conserved protein domains, which are often associated with mobile functions (reverse transcriptase/intron maturase, integrases, phage- or plasmid-DNA primases, transposases, integrases, ligases). Investigation of the introns showed proliferation of group II introns in the early evolution of the order and their subsequent loss in the core Halimedineae, possibly through RT-mediated intron loss.

The Most Developmentally Truncated Fishes Show Extensive Hox Gene Loss and Miniaturized Genomes

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
The world’s smallest fishes belong to the genus Paedocypris. These miniature fishes are endemic to an extreme habitat: the peat swamp forests in Southeast Asia, characterized by highly acidic blackwater. This threatened habitat is home to a large array of fishes, including a number of miniaturized but also developmentally truncated species. Especially the genus Paedocypris is characterized by profound, organism-wide developmental truncation, resulting in sexually mature individuals of <8 mm in length with a larval phenotype. Here, we report on evolutionary simplification in the genomes of two species of the dwarf minnow genus Paedocypris using whole-genome sequencing. The two species feature unprecedented Hox gene loss and genome reduction in association with their massive developmental truncation. We also show how other genes involved in the development of musculature, nervous system, and skeleton have been lost in Paedocypris, mirroring its highly progenetic phenotype. Further, our analyses suggest two mechanisms responsible for the genome streamlining in Paedocypris in relation to other Cypriniformes: severe intron shortening and reduced repeat content. As the first report on the genomic sequence of a vertebrate species with organism-wide developmental truncation, the results of our work enhance our understanding of genome evolution and how genotypes are translated to phenotypes. In addition, as a naturally simplified system closely related to zebrafish, Paedocypris provides novel insights into vertebrate development.

Plastid Transcript Editing across Dinoflagellate Lineages Shows Lineage-Specific Application but Conserved Trends

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Dinoflagellates are a group of unicellular protists with immense ecological and evolutionary significance and cell biological diversity. Of the photosynthetic dinoflagellates, the majority possess a plastid containing the pigment peridinin, whereas some lineages have replaced this plastid by serial endosymbiosis with plastids of distinct evolutionary affiliations, including a fucoxanthin pigment-containing plastid of haptophyte origin. Previous studies have described the presence of widespread substitutional RNA editing in peridinin and fucoxanthin plastid genes. Because reports of this process have been limited to manual assessment of individual lineages, global trends concerning this RNA editing and its effect on the biological function of the plastid are largely unknown. Using novel bioinformatic methods, we examine the dynamics and evolution of RNA editing over a large multispecies data set of dinoflagellates, including novel sequence data from the peridinin dinoflagellate Pyrocystis lunula and the fucoxanthin dinoflagellate Karenia mikimotoi. We demonstrate that while most individual RNA editing events in dinoflagellate plastids are restricted to single species, global patterns, and functional consequences of editing are broadly conserved. We find that editing is biased toward specific codon positions and regions of genes, and generally corrects otherwise deleterious changes in the genome prior to translation, though this effect is more prevalent in peridinin than fucoxanthin lineages. Our results support a model for promiscuous editing application subsequently shaped by purifying selection, and suggest the presence of an underlying editing mechanism transferred from the peridinin-containing ancestor into fucoxanthin plastids postendosymbiosis, with remarkably conserved functional consequences in the new lineage.

Phylogenomic Analysis of β-Lactamase in Archaea and Bacteria Enables the Identification of Putative New Members

Mon, 05 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
β-lactamases are enzymes which are commonly produced by bacteria and which degrade the β-lactam ring of β-lactam antibiotics, namely penicillins, cephalosporins, carbapenems, and monobactams, and inactivate these antibiotics. We performed a rational and comprehensive investigation of β-lactamases in different biological databases. In this study, we constructed hidden Markov model profiles as well as the ancestral sequence of four classes of β-lactamases (A, B, C, and D), which were used to identify potential β-lactamases from environmental metagenomic (1206), human microbiome metagenomic (6417), human microbiome reference genome (1310), and NCBI’s nonredundant databases (44101). Our analysis revealed the existence of putative β-lactamases in the metagenomic databases, which appeared to be similar to the four different molecular classes (A–D). This is the first report on the large-scale phylogenetic diversity of new members of β-lactamases, and our results revealed that metagenomic database dark-matter contains β-lactamase-like antibiotic resistance genes.

Conservation of Sex-Linked Markers among Conspecific Populations of a Viviparous Skink, Niveoscincus ocellatus, Exhibiting Genetic and Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination

Mon, 05 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Sex determination systems are exceptionally diverse and have undergone multiple and independent evolutionary transitions among species, particularly reptiles. However, the mechanisms underlying these transitions have not been established. Here, we tested for differences in sex-linked markers in the only known reptile that is polymorphic for sex determination system, the spotted snow skink, Niveoscincus ocellatus, to quantify the genomic differences that have accompanied this transition. In a highland population, sex is determined genetically, whereas in a lowland population, offspring sex ratio is influenced by temperature. We found a similar number of sex-linked loci in each population, including shared loci, with genotypes consistent with male heterogamety (XY). However, population-specific linkage disequilibrium suggests greater differentiation of sex chromosomes in the highland population. Our results suggest that transitions between sex determination systems can be facilitated by subtle genetic differences.

Genetic Diversity on the Sex Chromosomes

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
Levels and patterns of genetic diversity can provide insights into a population’s history. In species with sex chromosomes, differences between genomic regions with unique inheritance patterns can be used to distinguish between different sets of possible demographic and selective events. This review introduces the differences in population history for sex chromosomes and autosomes, provides the expectations for genetic diversity across the genome under different evolutionary scenarios, and gives an introductory description for how deviations in these expectations are calculated and can be interpreted. Predominantly, diversity on the sex chromosomes has been used to explore and address three research areas: 1) Mating patterns and sex-biased variance in reproductive success, 2) signatures of selection, and 3) evidence for modes of speciation and introgression. After introducing the theory, this review catalogs recent studies of genetic diversity on the sex chromosomes across species within the major research areas that sex chromosomes are typically applied to, arguing that there are broad similarities not only between male-heterogametic (XX/XY) and female-heterogametic (ZZ/ZW) sex determination systems but also any mating system with reduced recombination in a sex-determining region. Further, general patterns of reduced diversity in nonrecombining regions are shared across plants and animals. There are unique patterns across populations with vastly different patterns of mating and speciation, but these do not tend to cluster by taxa or sex determination system.

Are Nonsense Alleles of Drosophila melanogaster Genes under Any Selection?

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Abstract
A gene which carries a bona fide loss-of-function mutation effectively becomes a functionless pseudogene, free from selective constraint. However, there is a number of molecular mechanisms that may lead to at least a partial preservation of the function of genes carrying even drastic alleles. We performed a direct measurement of the strength of negative selection acting on nonsense alleles of protein-coding genes in the Zambian population of Drosophila melanogaster. Within those exons that carry nonsense mutations, negative selection, assayed by the ratio of missense over synonymous nucleotide diversity levels, appears to be absent, consistent with total loss of function. In other exons of nonsense alleles, negative selection was deeply relaxed but likely not completely absent, and the per site number of missense alleles declined significantly with the distance from the premature stop codon. This pattern may be due to alternative splicing which preserves function of some isoforms of nonsense alleles of genes.