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

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

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


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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


SMBE is a member of the Scientific Society Publisher Alliance

Featured News and Updates

SMBE Satellite Meeting in India This December

Plan to Attend!

SMBE satellite meeting on evolution of microbes in natural and experimental populations- synthesis and synergies.

Evolutionary research on microbes tends to adopt either one of two strategies; experimental evolution (EE) in the laboratory or studying variation within natural populations. Microbes are highly amenable to experimental evolution, and this approach has successfully addressed a broad range of questions, including adaptive dynamics, the repeatability of evolution, social interactions, and the distribution of fitness effects. Whole-genome sequencing of large samples from wild populations are similarly underpinning rapid advances in understanding how genome dynamics (such as the role of horizontal gene transfer and the pan-genome) underpin adaptation and ecological interactions. These two perspectives should, in principal, provide mutual reinforcement, as each addresses the potential weaknesses of the other; EE studies offer a controlled but artificial environment, whereas studies on natural populations are inherently more complex yet more realistic. This meeting will aim to bridge the gap between these approaches and build upon synergies and reciprocal benefits. The meeting will include a session on ‘Big Data’ analysis and microbial genomics supported by MRC-CLIMB (Cloud Infrastructure for Microbial bioinformatics).

Venue: The meeting will be held in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India.

Dates: 14-16 December 2017.

Confirmed presenters include:

Angus Buckling (University of Exeter, UK)
Olivier Tenaillon (French Institute of Health and Medical Research, France)
Daniel Falush (University of Bath, UK)
Deepa Agashe (National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India)
Ed Feil (University of Bath, UK)
Sam Sheppard (University of Bath, UK)

If you would like to attend the meeting please send an email to the organisers at by 1 October. Talks will be selected from submitted abstracts (up to 250 words), and all delegates are invited to present a poster.

12 awards are available for Early Career Researchers to attend and speak at the meeting (graduate students, post-doctoral researchers). These awards will provide $1000 towards travel costs, and all registration costs (including 3 nights accommodation). Awardees based in India will receive a maximum of $300 for travel. Please send no more than 500 words on your research, and the contribution you can make to the meeting, to the organisers:

Deadline for applications 1 October 2017. You will be notified by 15 October 2017.

  • Friday, September 08, 2017
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MBE | Most Read

Molecular Biology and Evolution

Cockroach Ancient Geographic and Genomic History Traced Back to Last Supercontinent

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Cockroaches are so hardy, a popular joke goes, that they have occupied the Earth long before humans first appeared—and will probably even outlast us long after (insert human doomsday scenario).

Bringing Water to the Fountain of Youth: How New Evidence of Sex Reversals Helps Show How Sex Chromosomes Are Maintained over Evolutionary Time

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMT

When it comes to sex, frogs, just like in people, exhibit a similar XX (female) and XY (male) sex chromosome pattern of inheritance.

Transoceanic Dispersal and Plate Tectonics Shaped Global Cockroach Distributions: Evidence from Mitochondrial Phylogenomics

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Following the acceptance of plate tectonics theory in the latter half of the 20th century, vicariance became the dominant explanation for the distributions of many plant and animal groups. In recent years, however, molecular-clock analyses have challenged a number of well-accepted hypotheses of vicariance. As a widespread group of insects with a fossil record dating back 300 My, cockroaches provide an ideal model for testing hypotheses of vicariance through plate tectonics versus transoceanic dispersal. However, their evolutionary history remains poorly understood, in part due to unresolved relationships among the nine recognized families. Here, we present a phylogenetic estimate of all extant cockroach families, as well as a timescale for their evolution, based on the complete mitochondrial genomes of 119 cockroach species. Divergence dating analyses indicated that the last common ancestor of all extant cockroaches appeared ∼235 Ma, ∼95 My prior to the appearance of fossils that can be assigned to extant families, and before the breakup of Pangaea began. We reconstructed the geographic ranges of ancestral cockroaches and found tentative support for vicariance through plate tectonics within and between several major lineages. We also found evidence of transoceanic dispersal in lineages found across the Australian, Indo-Malayan, African, and Madagascan regions. Our analyses provide evidence that both vicariance and dispersal have played important roles in shaping the distribution and diversity of these insects.

Sex-Chromosome Recombination in Common Frogs Brings Water to the Fountain-of-Youth

Tue, 30 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

According to the canonical model of sex-chromosome evolution, the degeneration of Y or W chromosomes (as observed in mammals and birds, respectively) results from an arrest of recombination in the heterogametic sex, driven by the fixation of sexually antagonistic mutations. However, sex chromosomes have remained homomorphic in many lineages of fishes, amphibians, and nonavian reptiles. According to the “fountain-of-youth” model, this homomorphy results from occasional events of sex reversal. If recombination arrest in males is controlled by maleness per se (and not by genotype), then Y chromosomes are expected to recombine in XY females, preventing their long-term degeneration. Here, we provide field support for the fountain-of-youth, by showing that sex-chromosome recombination in Rana temporaria only depends on phenotypic sex: naturally occurring XX males show the same restriction of recombination as XY males (average map length ∼2 cM), while XY females recombine as much as XX females (average map length ∼150 cM). Our results challenge several common assumptions regarding the evolution of sex chromosomes, including the role of sexually antagonistic genes as drivers of recombination arrest, and that of chromosomal inversions as underlying mechanisms.

Human C-to-U Coding RNA Editing Is Largely Nonadaptive

Sat, 27 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

C-to-U RNA editing enzymatically converts the base C to U in RNA molecules and could lead to nonsynonymous changes when occurring in coding regions. Hundreds to thousands of coding sites were recently found to be C-to-U edited or editable in humans, but the biological significance of this phenomenon is elusive. Here, we test the prevailing hypothesis that nonsynonymous editing is beneficial because it provides a means for tissue- or time-specific regulation of protein function that may be hard to accomplish by mutations due to pleiotropy. The adaptive hypothesis predicts that the fraction of sites edited and the median proportion of RNA molecules edited (i.e., editing level) are both higher for nonsynonymous than synonymous editing. However, our empirical observations are opposite to these predictions. Furthermore, the frequency of nonsynonymous editing, relative to that of synonymous editing, declines as genes become functionally more important or evolutionarily more constrained, and the nonsynonymous editing level at a site is negatively correlated with the evolutionary conservation of the site. Together, these findings refute the adaptive hypothesis; they instead indicate that the reported C-to-U coding RNA editing is mostly slightly deleterious or neutral, probably resulting from off-target activities of editing enzymes. Along with similar conclusions on the more prevalent A-to-I editing and m6A modification of coding RNAs, our study suggests that, at least in humans, most events of each type of posttranscriptional coding RNA modification likely manifest cellular errors rather than adaptations, demanding a paradigm shift in the research of posttranscriptional modification.

Non-B-Form DNA Is Enriched at Centromeres

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Animal and plant centromeres are embedded in repetitive “satellite” DNA, but are thought to be epigenetically specified. To define genetic characteristics of centromeres, we surveyed satellite DNA from diverse eukaryotes and identified variation in <10-bp dyad symmetries predicted to adopt non-B-form conformations. Organisms lacking centromeric dyad symmetries had binding sites for sequence-specific DNA-binding proteins with DNA-bending activity. For example, human and mouse centromeres are depleted for dyad symmetries, but are enriched for non-B-form DNA and are associated with binding sites for the conserved DNA-binding protein CENP-B, which is required for artificial centromere function but is paradoxically nonessential. We also detected dyad symmetries and predicted non-B-form DNA structures at neocentromeres, which form at ectopic loci. We propose that centromeres form at non-B-form DNA because of dyad symmetries or are strengthened by sequence-specific DNA binding proteins. This may resolve the CENP-B paradox and provide a general basis for centromere specification.

Variable Rates of Simple Satellite Gains across the Drosophila Phylogeny

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Simple satellites are tandemly repeating short DNA motifs that can span megabases in eukaryotic genomes. Because they can cause genomic instability through nonallelic homologous exchange, they are primarily found in the repressive heterochromatin near centromeres and telomeres where recombination is minimal, and on the Y chromosome, where they accumulate as the chromosome degenerates. Interestingly, the types and abundances of simple satellites often vary dramatically between closely related species, suggesting that they turn over rapidly. However, limited sampling has prevented detailed understanding of their evolutionary dynamics. Here, we characterize simple satellites from whole-genome sequences generated from males and females of nine Drosophila species, spanning 40 Ma of evolution. We show that PCR-free library preparation and postsequencing GC-correction better capture satellite quantities than conventional methods. We find that over half of the 207 simple satellites identified are species-specific, consistent with previous descriptions of their rapid evolution. Based on a maximum parsimony framework, we determined that most interspecific differences are due to lineage-specific gains. Simple satellites gained within a species are typically a single mutation away from abundant existing satellites, suggesting that they likely emerge from existing satellites, especially in the genomes of satellite-rich species. Interestingly, unlike most of the other lineages which experience various degrees of gains, the lineage leading up to the satellite-poor D. pseudoobscura and D. persimilis appears to be recalcitrant to gains, providing a counterpoint to the notion that simple satellites are universally rapidly evolving.

Estimating Time to the Common Ancestor for a Beneficial Allele

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

The haplotypes of a beneficial allele carry information about its history that can shed light on its age and the putative cause for its increase in frequency. Specifically, the signature of an allele’s age is contained in the pattern of variation that mutation and recombination impose on its haplotypic background. We provide a method to exploit this pattern and infer the time to the common ancestor of a positively selected allele following a rapid increase in frequency. We do so using a hidden Markov model which leverages the length distribution of the shared ancestral haplotype, the accumulation of derived mutations on the ancestral background, and the surrounding background haplotype diversity. Using simulations, we demonstrate how the inclusion of information from both mutation and recombination events increases accuracy relative to approaches that only consider a single type of event. We also show the behavior of the estimator in cases where data do not conform to model assumptions, and provide some diagnostics for assessing and improving inference. Using the method, we analyze population-specific patterns in the 1000 Genomes Project data to estimate the timing of adaptation for several variants which show evidence of recent selection and functional relevance to diet, skin pigmentation, and morphology in humans.

How Pairwise Coevolutionary Models Capture the Collective Residue Variability in Proteins?

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Global coevolutionary models of homologous protein families, as constructed by direct coupling analysis (DCA), have recently gained popularity in particular due to their capacity to accurately predict residue–residue contacts from sequence information alone, and thereby to facilitate tertiary and quaternary protein structure prediction. More recently, they have also been used to predict fitness effects of amino-acid substitutions in proteins, and to predict evolutionary conserved protein–protein interactions. These models are based on two currently unjustified hypotheses: 1) correlations in the amino-acid usage of different positions are resulting collectively from networks of direct couplings; and 2) pairwise couplings are sufficient to capture the amino-acid variability. Here, we propose a highly precise inference scheme based on Boltzmann-machine learning, which allows us to systematically address these hypotheses. We show how correlations are built up in a highly collective way by a large number of coupling paths, which are based on the proteins three-dimensional structure. We further find that pairwise coevolutionary models capture the collective residue variability across homologous proteins even for quantities which are not imposed by the inference procedure, like three-residue correlations, the clustered structure of protein families in sequence space or the sequence distances between homologs. These findings strongly suggest that pairwise coevolutionary models are actually sufficient to accurately capture the residue variability in homologous protein families.

Accumulation of Mutational Load at the Edges of a Species Range

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Why species have geographically restricted distributions is an unresolved question in ecology and evolutionary biology. Here, we test a new explanation that mutation accumulation due to small population size or a history of range expansion can contribute to restricting distributions by reducing population growth rate at the edge. We examined genomic diversity and mutational load across the entire geographic range of the North American plant Arabidopsis lyrata, including old, isolated populations predominantly at the southern edge and regions of postglacial range expansion at the northern and southern edges. Genomic diversity in intergenic regions declined toward distribution edges and signatures of mutational load in exon regions increased. Genomic signatures of mutational load were highly linked to phenotypically expressed load, measured as reduced performance of individual plants and lower estimated rate of population growth. The geographic pattern of load and the connection between load and population growth demonstrate that mutation accumulation reduces fitness at the edge and helps restrict species’ distributions.

The Evolutionary History of Nebraska Deer Mice: Local Adaptation in the Face of Strong Gene Flow

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

The interplay of gene flow, genetic drift, and local selective pressure is a dynamic process that has been well studied from a theoretical perspective over the last century. Wright and Haldane laid the foundation for expectations under an island-continent model, demonstrating that an island-specific beneficial allele may be maintained locally if the selection coefficient is larger than the rate of migration of the ancestral allele from the continent. Subsequent extensions of this model have provided considerably more insight. Yet, connecting theoretical results with empirical data has proven challenging, owing to a lack of information on the relationship between genotype, phenotype, and fitness. Here, we examine the demographic and selective history of deer mice in and around the Nebraska Sand Hills, a system in which variation at the Agouti locus affects cryptic coloration that in turn affects the survival of mice in their local habitat. We first genotyped 250 individuals from 11 sites along a transect spanning the Sand Hills at 660,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms across the genome. Using these genomic data, we found that deer mice first colonized the Sand Hills following the last glacial period. Subsequent high rates of gene flow have served to homogenize the majority of the genome between populations on and off the Sand Hills, with the exception of the Agouti pigmentation locus. Furthermore, mutations at this locus are strongly associated with the pigment traits that are strongly correlated with local soil coloration and thus responsible for cryptic coloration.

Bipartite Network Analysis of Gene Sharings in the Microbial World

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Extensive microbial gene flows affect how we understand virology, microbiology, medical sciences, genetic modification, and evolutionary biology. Phylogenies only provide a narrow view of these gene flows: plasmids and viruses, lacking core genes, cannot be attached to cellular life on phylogenetic trees. Yet viruses and plasmids have a major impact on cellular evolution, affecting both the gene content and the dynamics of microbial communities. Using bipartite graphs that connect up to 149,000 clusters of homologous genes with 8,217 related and unrelated genomes, we can in particular show patterns of gene sharing that do not map neatly with the organismal phylogeny. Homologous genes are recycled by lateral gene transfer, and multiple copies of homologous genes are carried by otherwise completely unrelated (and possibly nested) genomes, that is, viruses, plasmids and prokaryotes. When a homologous gene is present on at least one plasmid or virus and at least one chromosome, a process of “gene externalization,” affected by a postprocessed selected functional bias, takes place, especially in Bacteria. Bipartite graphs give us a view of vertical and horizontal gene flow beyond classic taxonomy on a single very large, analytically tractable, graph that goes beyond the cellular Web of Life.

A Single Mutation Unlocks Cascading Exaptations in the Origin of a Potent Pitviper Neurotoxin

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Evolutionary innovations and complex phenotypes seemingly require an improbable amount of genetic change to evolve. Rattlesnakes display two dramatically different venom phenotypes. Type I venoms are hemorrhagic with low systemic toxicity and high expression of tissue-destroying snake venom metalloproteinases. Type II venoms are highly neurotoxic and lack snake venom metalloproteinase expression and associated hemorrhagic activity. This dichotomy hinges on Mojave toxin (MTx), a phospholipase A2 (PLA2) based β-neurotoxin expressed in Type II venoms. MTx is comprised of a nontoxic acidic subunit that undergoes extensive proteolytic processing and allosterically regulates activity of a neurotoxic basic subunit. Evolution of the acidic subunit presents an evolutionary challenge because the need for high expression of a nontoxic venom component and the proteolytic machinery required for processing suggests genetic changes of seemingly little immediate benefit to fitness. We showed that MTx evolved through a cascading series of exaptations unlocked by a single nucleotide change. The evolution of one new cleavage site in the acidic subunit unmasked buried cleavage sites already present in ancestral PLA2s, enabling proteolytic processing. Snake venom serine proteases, already present in the venom to disrupt prey hemostasis, possess the requisite specificities for MTx acidic subunit proteolysis. The dimerization interface between MTx subunits evolved by exploiting a latent, but masked, hydrophobic interaction between ancestral PLA2s. The evolution of MTx through exaptation of existing functional and structural features suggests complex phenotypes that depend on evolutionary innovations can arise from minimal genetic change enabled by prior evolution.

Deuterostome Genomics: Lineage-Specific Protein Expansions That Enabled Chordate Muscle Evolution

Mon, 08 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Fish-like larvae were foundational to the chordate body plan, given the basal placement of free-living lancelets. That body plan probably made it possible for chordate ancestors to swim by beating a tail formed of notochord and bilateral paraxial muscles. In order to investigate the molecular genetic basis of the origin and evolution of paraxial muscle, we deduced the evolutionary histories of 16 contractile protein genes from paraxial muscle, based on genomic data from all five deuterostome lineages, using a newly developed orthology identification pipeline and a species tree. As a result, we found that more than twice as many orthologs of paraxial muscle genes are present in chordates, as in nonchordate deuterostomes (ambulacrarians). Orthologs of paraxial-type actin and troponin C genes are absent in ambulacrarians and most paraxial muscle protein isoforms diversified via gene duplications that occurred in each chordate lineage. Analyses of genes with known expression sites indicated that some isoforms were reutilized in specific muscles of nonvertebrate chordates via gene duplications. As orthologs of most paraxial muscle genes were present in ambulacrarians, in addition to expression patterns of related genes and functions of the two protein isoforms, regulatory mechanisms of muscle genes should also be considered in future studies of the origin of paraxial muscle.

The Gateway from Near into Remote Oceania: New Insights from Genome-Wide Data

Tue, 02 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

A widely accepted two-wave scenario of human settlement of Oceania involves the first out-of-Africa migration circa 50,000 years ago (ya), and the more recent Austronesian expansion, which reached the Bismarck Archipelago by 3,450 ya. Whereas earlier genetic studies provided evidence for extensive sex-biased admixture between the incoming and the indigenous populations, some archaeological, linguistic, and genetic evidence indicates a more complicated picture of settlement. To study regional variation in Oceania in more detail, we have compiled a genome-wide data set of 823 individuals from 72 populations (including 50 populations from Oceania) and over 620,000 autosomal single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). We show that the initial dispersal of people from the Bismarck Archipelago into Remote Oceania occurred in a “leapfrog” fashion, completely by-passing the main chain of the Solomon Islands, and that the colonization of the Solomon Islands proceeded in a bidirectional manner. Our results also support a divergence between western and eastern Solomons, in agreement with the sharp linguistic divide known as the Tryon–Hackman line. We also report substantial post-Austronesian gene flow across the Solomons. In particular, Santa Cruz (in Remote Oceania) exhibits extraordinarily high levels of Papuan ancestry that cannot be explained by a simple bottleneck/founder event scenario. Finally, we use simulations to show that discrepancies between different methods for dating admixture likely reflect different sensitivities of the methods to multiple admixture events from the same (or similar) sources. Overall, this study points to the importance of fine-scale sampling to understand the complexities of human population history.

Phylogenomic Data Yield New and Robust Insights into the Phylogeny and Evolution of Weevils

Tue, 26 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

The phylogeny and evolution of weevils (the beetle superfamily Curculionoidea) has been extensively studied, but many relationships, especially in the large family Curculionidae (true weevils; > 50,000 species), remain uncertain. We used phylogenomic methods to obtain DNA sequences from 522 protein-coding genes for representatives of all families of weevils and all subfamilies of Curculionidae. Most of our phylogenomic results had strong statistical support, and the inferred relationships were generally congruent with those reported in previous studies, but with some interesting exceptions. Notably, the backbone relationships of the weevil phylogeny were consistently strongly supported, and the former Nemonychidae (pine flower snout beetles) were polyphyletic, with the subfamily Cimberidinae (here elevated to Cimberididae) placed as sister group of all other weevils. The clade comprising the sister families Brentidae (straight-snouted weevils) and Curculionidae was maximally supported and the composition of both families was firmly established. The contributions of substitution modeling, codon usage and/or mutational bias to differences between trees reconstructed from amino acid and nucleotide sequences were explored. A reconstructed timetree for weevils is consistent with a Mesozoic radiation of gymnosperm-associated taxa to form most extant families and diversification of Curculionidae alongside flowering plants—first monocots, then other groups—beginning in the Cretaceous.

The 4-Celled Tetrabaena socialis Nuclear Genome Reveals the Essential Components for Genetic Control of Cell Number at the Origin of Multicellularity in the Volvocine Lineage

Tue, 26 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Multicellularity is the premier example of a major evolutionary transition in individuality and was a foundational event in the evolution of macroscopic biodiversity. The volvocine chlorophyte lineage is well suited for studying this process. Extant members span unicellular, simple colonial, and obligate multicellular taxa with germ-soma differentiation. Here, we report the nuclear genome sequence of one of the most morphologically simple organisms in this lineage—the 4-celled colonial Tetrabaena socialis and compare this to the three other complete volvocine nuclear genomes. Using conservative estimates of gene family expansions a minimal set of expanded gene families was identified that associate with the origin of multicellularity. These families are rich in genes related to developmental processes. A subset of these families is lineage specific, which suggests that at a genomic level the evolution of multicellularity also includes lineage-specific molecular developments. Multiple points of evidence associate modifications to the ubiquitin proteasomal pathway (UPP) with the beginning of coloniality. Genes undergoing positive or accelerating selection in the multicellular volvocines were found to be enriched in components of the UPP and gene families gained at the origin of multicellularity include components of the UPP. A defining feature of colonial/multicellular life cycles is the genetic control of cell number. The genomic data presented here, which includes diversification of cell cycle genes and modifications to the UPP, align the genetic components with the evolution of this trait.

Complex Relationships between Chromatin Accessibility, Sequence Divergence, and Gene Expression in Arabidopsis thaliana

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Variation in regulatory DNA is thought to drive phenotypic variation, evolution, and disease. Prior studies of regulatory DNA and transcription factors across animal species highlighted a fundamental conundrum: Transcription factor binding domains and cognate binding sites are conserved, while regulatory DNA sequences are not. It remains unclear how conserved transcription factors and dynamic regulatory sites produce conserved expression patterns across species. Here, we explore regulatory DNA variation and its functional consequences within Arabidopsis thaliana, using chromatin accessibility to delineate regulatory DNA genome-wide. Unlike in previous cross-species comparisons, the positional homology of regulatory DNA is maintained among A. thaliana ecotypes and less nucleotide divergence has occurred. Of the ∼50,000 regulatory sites in A. thaliana, we found that 15% varied in accessibility among ecotypes. Some of these accessibility differences were associated with extensive, previously unannotated sequence variation, encompassing many deletions and ancient hypervariable alleles. Unexpectedly, for the majority of such regulatory sites, nearby gene expression was unaffected. Nevertheless, regulatory sites with high levels of sequence variation and differential chromatin accessibility were the most likely to be associated with differential gene expression. Finally, and most surprising, we found that the vast majority of differentially accessible sites show no underlying sequence variation. We argue that these surprising results highlight the necessity to consider higher-order regulatory context in evaluating regulatory variation and predicting its phenotypic consequences.

Genetic Mapping Reveals an Anthocyanin Biosynthesis Pathway Gene Potentially Influencing Evolutionary Divergence between Two Subspecies of Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata)

Fri, 15 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Immense floral trait variation has likely arisen as an adaptation to attract pollinators. Different pollinator syndromes—suites of floral traits that attract specific pollinator functional groups—are repeatedly observed across closely related taxa or divergent populations. The observation of these trait syndromes suggests that pollinators use floral cues to signal the underlying nectar reward, and that complex trait combinations may persist and evolve through genetic correlations. Here, we explore pollinator preferences and the genetic architecture of floral divergence using an extensive genetic mapping study in the hybrid zone of two Ipomopsis aggregata subspecies that exhibit a hummingbird and a hawkmoth pollinator syndrome. We found that natural selection acts on several floral traits, and that hummingbirds and hawkmoths exhibited flower color preferences as predicted by their respective pollinator syndromes. Our quantitative trait loci (QTL) analyses revealed 46 loci affecting floral features, many of which colocalize across the genome. Two of these QTL have large effects explaining >15% of the phenotypic variance. The strongest QTL was associated with flower color and localized to a SNP in the anthocyanin biosynthesis pathway gene, dihydroflavonol-4-reductase (DFR). Further analysis revealed strong associations between DFR SNP variants, gene expression, and flower color across populations from the hybrid zone. Hence, DFR may be a target of pollinator-mediated selection in the hybrid zone of these two subspecies. Together, our findings suggest that hummingbirds and hawkmoths exhibit contrasting flower color preferences, which may drive the divergence of several floral traits through correlated trait evolution.

The Effect of Nonreversibility on Inferring Rooted Phylogenies

Wed, 15 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Most phylogenetic models assume that the evolutionary process is stationary and reversible. In addition to being biologically improbable, these assumptions also impair inference by generating models under which the likelihood does not depend on the position of the root. Consequently, the root of the tree cannot be inferred as part of the analysis. Yet identifying the root position is a key component of phylogenetic inference because it provides a point of reference for polarizing ancestor–descendant relationships and therefore interpreting the tree. In this paper, we investigate the effect of relaxing the unrealistic reversibility assumption and allowing the position of the root to be another unknown. We propose two hierarchical models that are centered on a reversible model but perturbed to allow nonreversibility. The models differ in the degree of structure imposed on the perturbations. The analysis is performed in the Bayesian framework using Markov chain Monte Carlo methods for which software is provided. We illustrate the performance of the two nonreversible models in analyses of simulated data using two types of topological priors. We then apply the models to a real biological data set, the radiation of polyploid yeasts, for which there is robust biological opinion about the root position. Finally, we apply the models to a second biological alignment for which the rooted tree is controversial: the ribosomal tree of life. We compare the two nonreversible models and conclude that both are useful in inferring the position of the root from real biological data.

P3: Phylogenetic Posterior Prediction in RevBayes

Fri, 10 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Tests of absolute model fit are crucial in model-based inference because poorly structured models can lead to biased parameter estimates. In Bayesian inference, posterior predictive simulations can be used to test absolute model fit. However, such tests have not been commonly practiced in phylogenetic inference due to a lack of convenient and flexible software. Here, we describe our newly implemented tests of model fit using posterior predictive testing, based on both data- and inference-based test statistics, in the phylogenetics software RevBayes. This new implementation makes a large spectrum of models available for use through a user-friendly and flexible interface.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.