SMBE Conference guidelines

Download a PDF of the Conference Guidelines here.

Statement of diversity

SMBE has a strong commitment to diversity. Organizers should place emphasis on diversity of participants, including gender and geographic diversity, at every level of the meeting, including but not limited to the selection of plenary speakers, symposium organizers, and invited and contributed talks. Please ensure that this criterion is considered throughout the organization of the conference.

Professional Conference Organizer (PCO)

Each conference is organized jointly by SMBE’s contracted Professional Conference Organizer (PCO) and the Local Organizing Committee.  The role of the PCO is described in its contract with SMBE.

Local Organizing Committee (LOC)

The SMBE conference Local Organizing Committee should include Local Organizers and one member of SMBE Council. The role of the Council member on the LOC is to make sure the conference organizers adhere to these guidelines. Additionally, one organizer of the meeting from a previous year and one organizer of the meeting for the next year should be included for the purpose of continuity.

The LOC will be required to sign a formal agreement with SMBE agreeing to its responsibilities.

The LOC should send any presentations it makes – usually their proposal and post-conference feedback – to the SMBE Executive Administrator for archiving.


It is very important that the meeting is fully costed, with costs borne by the meeting and not by the Society.  A rolling budget should be set up with precise costs and with frequent updates on income and expenditure. The Society will provide US$100,000, which is the only funding promised by the Society. While these funds can be made available at any time and used temporarily for other expenditures (such as reserving a venue), it is understood that the US$100,000 will ultimately cover travel costs for 50 invited speakers.  In addition, in the event that a short-term loan is required for down-payments on the venue and suppliers, then this can be arranged. Be aware that this loan will be issued in US dollars and all currency change costs, as well as the danger of currency fluctuations, must be borne by the conference.

Size of conference

The conference can currently expect between 1000 and 1500 delegates, although we have seen considerable fluctuations in this number depending on factors such as convenience and cost of travel. Organizers are advised to make two alternative plans for a smaller and a larger conference - i.e. make plans for a smaller conference but include options to expand if registration numbers seem to indicate the meeting will be large. This should happen at the same location with options for a larger auditorium that can hold the entire conference. Conference attendance should be capped at 2000.

Approximate timelines




Last day of the conference of the preceding year.

Initial website goes live



●       venue

●       opportunities for sponsorship

●       composition of the organizing committee

●       contact information for the conference organizer.

10 months before the date of the conference.

Call for symposia opens

See ‘Call for symposia’ below.

9 months before the date of the conference

Call for symposia closes


8.5 months before the conference

Notification of successful Symposia


8 months before the conference

Titles and short description of all symposia, should be placed on the conference website. Note that these are sometimes worded differently from the original proposals, which sometimes contain information related to the submission process.,.


8 months before the conference

Early bird registration opens

This deadline offers discount on the registration fee. Past experience indicates that 50-75% of delegates will take advantage of this early registration deadline.

Early bird registration should be advertised to the society membership, in the society journals, through the social media, on EvolDir, etc.

7 months before the conference

Abstract submission and award applications open

6 months before the conference

Abstract submission and award applications close (though it is common to extend by one week, depending on number of submissions).

Fitch Symposium, Abstract and travel award deadlines all occur at the same time. Fitch finalists are selected first and present in a separate symposium.

2-3 weeks prior to council decision of travel awards

Deadline for symposium organizers’ talk selection

To allow inclusion of talks in symposia to be considered in selection of travel awards

2 weeks before early bird registration closes

Council decision of travel awards: award applicants notified of success or otherwise

This is essential to allow applicants time to register at Early Bird rate if they haven’t received a travel/registration award. Some individuals who do not receive funding or are not selected for a talk will not register. There can be loss of ~100 participants as a result.

4 months before the conference

Early bird registration closes, full price registration opens


2 months before the conference

Full programme available online

Until the conference begins

Full cost registration

Full cost online registration; allows delegates to submit an abstract, though as an additional encouragement to register early, it should be stipulated that late abstracts can be considered only for poster presentations.

Either on the penultimate day of the meeting or up to two days later

Post-meeting survey

To be emailed to all meeting participants and able to run on a computer OR phone 

Structure of the conference


The preferred conference length is at 3.5 days with the acceptable range from 3 to 4 days (not counting the day of the council meeting/opening reception). The LOC is encouraged but not required to organize Public Lectures on Evolution/Molecular Evolution either immediately before or immediately after the meeting.

Council meeting

One council meeting to be held in a room that accommodates the council plus outside participants (about 16 people altogether).  Light breakfast, lunch, and all day coffee, tea, and light refreshments should be provided. This meeting will usually take place on the first day of the conference, starting at 8 or 9 am and must end at least 15 minutes before the Nei lecture. The main conference usually begins in the late afternoon/early evening with the Nei lecture, followed by the opening reception.

Scientific content

Limit oral presentations per person

Each person is limited to one oral presentation (either invited or contributed) for the entire annual SMBE meeting. If the same person is invited to several symposia, the person is given a choice of in which symposium s/he would like to present.

Presenter information

Each presenter should have clear instructions on where their presentation is going to be held, when they have been allocated a speaking time, and how to upload their slides.

Plenary lectures

There should be 3-4 plenary lectures, which are attended by all delegates, and usually last one hour. The number of plenary lectures should be limited to keep costs down and maximize  the number of multi-speaker symposia. Refer to the ‘Statement of Diversity’ above in the selection of plenary speakers. 

One of these plenary lectures is the Nei Lecture, named in honour of Professor Masatoshi Nei, and is given by the President of the society. Usually this lecture takes place near the beginning of the conference. SMBE has funds for this lecture to be published in MBE. The other plenary lectures are invited by the LOC and the invitees are usually fully funded in terms of the registration fee, travel and accommodation by the meeting.

Special symposia

Fitch Symposium

The Fitch Symposium occurs as an exclusive event when no other events or symposia are taking place.

Graduate students and postdocs in their first year of their first postdoc are eligible to apply to present their work in the Fitch Symposium, which is a plenary symposium, again attended by all delegates at the conference. A committee is convened each year by the Past-President to select the 8 talks from the submitted abstracts. The President-Elect will moderate the Fitch Symposium. The President will convene a committee to select the winner.

Open Symposium

The LOC is strongly encouraged to include an Open Symposium at which ground-breaking work not covered by the accepted symposium topics can be presented, Faculty award recipients can present, and potentially to allow more student/postdoc talks accepted.

Faculty awards symposium

There may also be a separate symposium for recipients of the Allan Wilson, Margaret Dayhoff, Motoo Kimura, and Community Service Awards.  Recipients of these awards should all be given the opportunity at the meeting, either in an ordinary symposium, or the special symposium, or in slots set aside for them in the Open Symposium.  The Council members responsible for these awards should be informed of the latest dates that lectures can incorporated into the programme.

Parallel symposia

The LOC should have a (usually audible) mechanism to ensure that concurrent sessions stay on time and try to minimize similarity in content or theme of overlapping concurrent sessions.

Number of symposia

There should be approximately 20-30 symposia, usually with no more than four parallel sessions (fewer than four is fine). SMBE Council considers that if there are more than four parallel sessions then delegates feel they are missing too many talks, while fewer parallel sessions restrict the diversity of the conference. Moreover, recent experience has shown that more sessions and/or additional plenary speakers can put the meeting into financial jeopardy.

Call for symposia

The call for symposia should indicate that if a symposium is selected, the invited speakers will have all or most of their registration fee, accommodation, and travel covered by the conference (at the level of approximately $2000 per invited speaker against receipts; adjusted reimbursement for intra- and intercontinental travel is allowed. This $2000 support for invited speakers should be maintained by the LOC under all circumstances.

A list of at least two confirmed invited speakers per symposium should be requested in response to the call for symposia.

Selection of the symposia

Most symposia are selected by the LOC on the basis of proposals and depending on whether the same topics were covered by symposia at recent SMBE meetings.

Symposia should reflect the broad diversity of interests in the SMBE community, not simply the most popular topics. Symposium organizers select abstracts for talks, taking speaker diversity into consideration (see Statement of diversity above) as well as diversity of career stage (student/postdoc/junior/senior investigators).

Symposium proposals should include a summary of the topic, why it is timely for the SMBE meeting, and which speakers have been invited and confirmed. If there are two or more proposals on the same topic, the LOC has a choice of selecting one proposal or merging two or more proposals. Merging two or more symposia either reduces the number of invited speakers that can be supported by SMBE or the number of slots available for contributed talks and is therefore discouraged.

Each symposium organizer can only select one talk from her/his own research group. That includes his/her own talk. In the event of too few submissions, exceptions to this rule may permit one additional talk from the organizer’s group, after consultation with the LOC.

The LOC selects the talks for the Open Symposium.


Recent conferences have settled on a structure where a ‘unit’ of time is 15 minutes. This includes time for questions (usually, 12 minutes for the talk and 3 minutes for questions and movement between rooms). This makes it especially important to have rooms in close proximity to each other. Invited speakers can be allocated 15 or 30 mins. It is also prudent to remind symposium organizers that delegates frequently move between symposia, so it is useful to allow one minute of moving time between talks (if adequate for travel between rooms) within the allocated 15 minutes and to be sure that the layout of seating is conducive to movement between rooms.. Some symposium organizers may choose to use the first 15 minutes to provide an overview of the study area at the beginning, but this is subject to time availability.

Selecting speakers

Each symposium of contributed talks will select its preferred speaker list from the list of contributed talk abstracts. It is best if a delegate is allowed to submit their abstract to more than one symposium (though logistically, it is probably best to restrict this to two symposia). When the symposium organizers are given their list of abstracts and delegates who wish to speak in their symposium, they can choose their preferred list of speakers. However, the exact details of this process are to be worked out by the LOC. In the end, the LOC will match delegates and symposia and communicate to both the symposium organizers and the delegates the outcome of this process. This decision should be reached before Early Bird registration closes as it affects many scientists’ travel funding, and no later than 4 months before the conference.

Poster sessions

Poster presenters frequently feel that they do not get adequate opportunity to present their work, so it is important that each poster presenter is given enough time both to talk to other delegates and to have the posters visible (at breaks, etc.). Poster sessions should have accompanying refreshments and each poster should have at least two sessions when they are available to be seen. Although not always possible, it is desirable to have sufficient space that all posters can be viewed throughout the meeting, so that participants (and poster judges) have plenty of opportunity for viewing. The website should also indicate when posters can go up. Poster space should only be made available to participants who have registered and sent payment, to minimize “no-shows.”

Social events

Please provide vegetarian/vegan options with all catering.

Breaks and catering

It is expected that the conference will provide morning coffee break, lunch on all days, afternoon coffee breaks on each day, preferably with some small snack (fruit, cookies, pastry, etc.), and poster sessions.

Welcome reception

This typically provides ample snacks, enough for all participants, in addition to at most one or two drink tickets. Additional drinks can usually be purchased at the bar.

Gala Dinner  (banquet)

Delegates can choose to pay extra for this dinner or choose not to attend.

This is the preferred venue for distributing awards, and awardees present at the meeting, including all Fitch participants, should have free Gala tickets. A few venues include an after-dinner speaker, and some venues include dancing Drink tickets may be provided at registration for the Gala, with additional drinks available for purchase.

Awards Ceremony

The preferred venue for the Awards Ceremony (which lasts about 20 minutes) is the Gala Dinner.

If the awards are not distributed at the Gala Dinner, then 20-30 minutes should be set aside for an Awards Ceremony in the middle of the last morning (to allow enough time for decisions to be made on poster prizes and to maximize attendance). This ceremony is usually combined with an invitation to the next meeting (10-15 minutes), but the Gala is the preferred venue for awards.

While not all poster participants typically attend the Gala, due to cost, unless it is covered in registration, not all participants attend a separate Awards Ceremony, due to other choices on the last day, including packing and checking out of the hotel.

Post-conference survey

Each delegate should be invited to evaluate the conference, either using a paper form that can be dropped into a box onsite or an online form that can be completed either on a computer or smart phone.  The survey should be organized by the PCO and its content checked by the SMBE Council representative before distribution.

Certificates of attendance

Some delegates will require a certificate of attendance for their home institutions or for funding agencies that have supported their travel. These certificates should be provided on request and made available at the conference venue or sent after the meeting.

Post meeting reporting

Meeting organizers are required to provide a summary document to the Council after the

meeting, including the diversity statistics of the meeting participants, (gender, geography, and career stage).

Awards (see

SMBE provides several types of pre-conference awards, which should be administered via the conference abstract submission system. It is essential that time is allowed for awardees to be chosen and applicants notified before Early Bird registration closes so that attendees can make informed financial decisions about registration options and travel.

Those receiving awards that include registration and travel need to pay in the first instance and will then be reimbursed by SMBE.  This applies to all but recipients of Registration-only awards, who need  a code to put in to the online registration system to avoid payment.

SMBE-appointed committees select the recipients of travel awards.  All award applicants should be SMBE members.

SMBE’s Faculty, Best Paper, Fitch, and best poster awards are presented at the Awards Ceremony. All awardess, including all eight Fitch presenters, attending the meeting are eligible for free Gala Dinner tickets.

1.     Faculty awards

Faculty award-winners are reimbursed for registration and travel to the meeting.

Recipients of these awards should all be given the opportunity to present talks at the meeting, either in an ordinary symposium or the special symposium or in slots set aside for them in the Open Symposium.  The Council members responsible for these awards should be informed of the latest dates that lectures can be incorporated  into the programme.

2.     Fitch awards

All those selected to present in the Fitch Symposium are eligible for a free Gala Dinner ticket, and will be reimbursed for travel and accommodation.

The Council will appoint two separate committees, one to review the initial applicants to the Fitch symposium and another to determine the winner among the 8 finalists (see timeline above). Banquet tickets should be reserved for the 8 finalists.

3.     Undergraduate mentoring and diversity travel awards

Award-winners are reimbursed for registration and a contribution toward travel to the meeting.

10 undergraduate mentoring and diversity awards are available each year to undergraduate students that submit abstracts. The total value of each of  these awards is $1500 to $2000, depending whether intercontinental travel is involved. This covers registration, with the rest intended for travel.   Registration fees are to be charged directly to SMBE, so that students do not have to pay themselves (the amount of registration cost being deducted from the final value of their award, and the award recipients informed at time of notification of the value of their award to be used for travel and lodging).

One or two SMBE Councillors assigned by the Council will take charge of this selection, with a recommended bias towards funding those selected to give oral presentations, keeping the Statement of Diversity in mind.

The process consists of finding a mentor for each student so that they can be guided through the conference. In addition, a dinner should be arranged for all 10 students, their 10 mentors and the Council members who organize the activity. The conference organizers should reserve 10 banquet tickets for the awardees (to be charged to SMBE) and liaise with the Councillors in order to find an appropriate restaurant for the mentoring dinner, which is usually on the first full day.). The Councillors will send the list of awardees and their details to the meeting organizers and the PCO so that they can be registered automatically.

All undergraduate awardees should present their posters in the same poster session and their posters grouped together.

4.     Graduate and postdoc travel awards

Award-winners are reimbursed for registration and travel to the meeting.

SMBE provides graduate and postdoc travel awards for the purpose of enhancing gender and geographic diversity. The awards are chosen from eligible applicants who are SMBE members and who have expressed a desire to be considered for such awards. The Past-President, usually in conjunction with the LOC, will head a committee to determine the awards.

5.     Poster awards

The poster prizes will be decided by a committee convened by the President-Elect. Poster prizes consist of up to 9 prizes of $500 each, to be distributed in the 3 categories of postdoc, graduate student, and undergraduate prizes (it does not have to be 3 each).

6.     Best GBE and MBE papers awards

Award recipients receive registration waivers, travel awards to attend the meeting, and a Gala ticket.

7.     Registration awards

These are registration only awards, and there are usually more of these than awards that include travel.

8.     Carer travel awards

SMBE provides additional travel awards for our members who are also primary carers (for example caring for children or dependent adults, including adult children with a disability or an elderly relative). This award can be used in the manner of choosing of the awardee, for example for procuring child care or dependent care at home (e.g., flying a relative to help at home while the delegate is at the meeting; hiring a professional). Priority will be given to early-career scientists and according to need (e.g., younger children, disabled children or adults).

Information about Carer Travel Awards should be included in emails promoting conference registration and applications should be through the registration system. The decision on who is granted an award will be made by a committee of at least one person designated by Council. It shall be noted that people in need of an early decision can email a request to the organizers and/or council member in charge of the Carer Travel Award process.  


Payment for registration

The online registration system should accept all major credit and debit cards using the conventional inputting mechanism.  Credit card fees charged to the conference should be less than 3% per transaction.

Registration fees

SMBE members receive discounted registration. The discount for SMBE members must be at least $30, but a higher differential between member and non-member registration is allowed. Students and postdocs should be given a further discounted registration rate as well; the discount should be larger for graduate students than for postdocs.  The conference registration page should allow conference delegates the opportunity to join SMBE on the spot, e.g. by linking to the SMBE website membership page in a new window (currently Finally, while most registrants will use the website, it should also be possible to register onsite (‘walk-ins’).

Registration data

Registration data, including lists of delegates, should only be given to SMBE officials and used for SMBE business.  Third parties, including organizers of future conferences, should not be given the lists without express permission from SMBE.

This determines eligibility for certain awards and allows SMBE to maintain a participant database with student or postdoc status recorded (this is essential for determining poster and travel award eligibility, for instance). The conference organizers must maintain a database of participants with this information, as well as abstract numbers and titles as separate entries, email addresses, affiliations, etc.

Registration should include declarations of:

·  career stage (faculty, postdoc, graduate student, undergraduate, other)

gender,(with both a write-in option for non-gender conforming participants who prefer to specify and the option omit             this question).

Registration giveaways at the meeting

Printed conference material should be kept to a minimum. Sponsors should be encouraged to provide advertisements and information on the conference website or app or instead of printed flyers.


Each delegate should be provided with a badge. This must not include advertising promotion for any journal or society other than MBE/GBE and SMBE, though non-journal sponsors may sponsor lanyards. It is desirable to have badges that designate Editors and Associate Editors of the journals (sometimes provided by the MBE EiC) as well as a separate designation for Council members, and/or speakers, though this is the option of the organizers.

Other swag (bags, bottles, USB thumb drives, etc.)

Should be kept to a minimum to reduce environmental impact and should avoid advertising for journals directly competing with society journals.  

Conference website, programme, and app

SMBE conference promotion should consider environmental impact and minimize the use of printed materials.


Must include:

promotion of travel and child care awards

SMBE policies on harassment and broadcasting (text in Appendix to this document)

All images either posted online or used in emails related to the conference should be approved by the Council liaison and take gender balance and other demographic issues into consideration, regarding the people shown in the images. When possible, images from previous SMBE meetings should be used.


The timetable should ideally be available in three formats:

●       “at-a-glance” format, simply detailing the session/symposia times and locations.

●       a more detailed version with each speaker shown in column format so that parallel talks are on the same row. This helps         participants plan their schedule. Once the meeting starts, it should be updated live online (or at least daily), since changes       do arise.

●       a detailed online-only booklet with each speaker listed along with all co-authors, affiliations, and abstract.

Be sure that all authors are visible in the complete online program, not just the presenting author, since many people choose to attend a talk based on the laboratory or senior author. It is helpful if this information can be provided in column format.

The programme should include SMBE policies on harassment and broadcasting (text in Appendix) and an email contact to report any violations of these policies. 

The most updated printed or printable conference programme should be the version with concurrent sessions in columns and concurrent talks in rows to make it easy to choose a path.

Additional requirements for the online programme

A participant list should be provided in the web programme.

The entire conference program, complete with timetables, should be made available for download to laptops or mobile devices, usually in PDF or Excel format.

The online programme should also contain all the logistical details for the conference, including the best and most cost-effective means of ground and air transportation to the meeting location.

Essential conference app features

●       Available in both iPhone and Android formats

●       Useable offline, since many travelers do not have a data plan and some hotels charge fees for wifi. Wifi quality can also be unreliable at large meeting venues.

●       If possible should not require registration (unless necessary for those who want  to customize it, for example to create a personalized program)

●       Updateable and updated daily

●       Include first author name, surname, and talk title, hyperlinked to abstract with all authors.

●       Allow announcements

●       Include SMBE policies on harassment and social media (text in Appendix) with quick email link to report violations

●       Include quick link so that a poster presenter can invite another meeting participant to her/his poster. (This should not require composing an email each time.)

●        Include, if possible, the ability to create a personalized schedule, selecting talks and/or abstracts to attend, by clicking on (such as “liking” or saving to schedule) either the talk title, speaker name, or abstract from any of its views.  This may include the option to set reminders. Reminders, alerts, or notifications (for example of poster sessions closing or a talk about to start) should always be inaudible.



The conference venue should have at least one room that can hold at least 80% of delegates. Past experience indicates that for the plenary talks approximately 80% of the delegates will attend. Therefore, it is preferable that there is a room to hold this number. If this is not possible, then there should be a facility to relay the plenary lectures to another comfortable room via video link.

The venue should additionally have enough rooms for all parallel sessions and these should be sufficiently large to accommodate approximately one third of the conference, given the difficulty in predicting the numbers of delegates that attend any given talk. The rooms should be located no more than a 1-2 min walk from each other and have seating or aisles arranged to facilitate movement between sessions.

Kindly ask the venue to refrain from using air freshener during the conference in all locations, including registration desk and lobbies. Some participants are allergic to it and it exposes all participants to poor air quality.

Free, secure wifi should be available throughout the venue.

Onsite child care

Organizers will arrange for onsite (in the same building as the conference) child care, as this is an issue of great importance to the members of the Society. SMBE will help defray the cost of child care. Please communicate early and often with the Society as to the costs, barriers and opportunities for child care. Ideally the onsite location should be no more than a 5 minute walk from the sessions but not right next to a room where there are talks. Parents need quick access but the sound level can be that of a play-room setting.

Speaker set-up

There should be a set-up room for speakers to check their presentations. The preferred presentation file format is pdf, but ideally both Powerpoint and Keynote should be accepted. Both modern (current OS) Apple and PC computers should be provided for presenters.


The LOC is responsible for liaising with SMBE and the PCO to ensure that all insurance requirements are met.

Appendix 1: SMBE policies

Policy on harassment, discrimination and liability
SMBE and the Annual Meeting organizers are dedicated to providing a safe, hospitable, and productive environment for all attendees. Accordingly, the SMBE Annual Meeting prohibits all forms of discrimination and harassment. Behaviour that undermines the integrity of intellectual discourse and interactions will not be tolerated. This applies to all conference participants, including staff, volunteers, and attendees. If a participant engages in harassing or discriminatory behaviour, the SMBE Annual Meeting organizers reserve the right to take action ranging from a simple warning to the offender to expulsion from the conference. If you have a question or concern about this policy or would like to report an incident involving yourself or another person, please contact any member of the Local Organizing Committee or email [email address for the appropriate year’s conference PCO]. We take such issues seriously and will maintain your confidentiality (unless legally compelled otherwise). Neither SMBE nor the SMBE Annual Meeting organizers shall be responsible for any defamatory, offensive, or illegal conduct of Meeting participants, and shall not be held liable for personal injury, property damage, theft or damage of any kind suffered by the participants at or in connection with the SMBE Annual Meeting.

Broadcasting policy
The SMBE Annual Meeting supports the communication and discussion of science. Information presented at the Meeting (in oral or poster format) may be reported and discussed by attendees and science writers via blogs, Twitter, or other formats, unless any of the authors requests otherwise. We do request that communications are respectful and do not directly reproduce visual materials (e.g., no posting of photos of slides or posters) unless permission is obtained from the presenter or if they have already made this information freely available in an open-source forum. If a presenter does not want information from his/her presentation to be photographed at all, or broadcast, they should make this clear in their talk/poster and we ask that attendees respect this. If you have questions or concerns about this policy, or would like to report an abuse of it, please contact any member of the Local Organizing Committee or email [email address for that year’s conference PCO].

Appendix 2: Call for proposals for conference

The President-Elect issues a call for proposals five years (e.g. call issued in 2017 for meeting in 2021) before the conference year, following the rotation below:

●       North America

●       Europe

●       Rest of the World

Applicants will be required to submit written proposals following a standard template to SMBE Council.  Applicants are required to work with SMBE’s designated PCO.

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Population Genomic Analysis Reveals Contrasting Demographic Changes of Two Closely Related Dolphin Species in the Last Glacial

Mon, 28 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Population genomic data can be used to infer historical effective population sizes (Ne), which help study the impact of past climate changes on biodiversity. Previous genome sequencing of one individual of the common bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus revealed an unusual, sharp rise in Ne during the last glacial, raising questions about the reliability, generality, underlying cause, and biological implication of this finding. Here we first verify this result by additional sampling of T. truncatus. We then sequence and analyze the genomes of its close relative, the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin T. aduncus. The two species exhibit contrasting demographic changes in the last glacial, likely through actual changes in population size and/or alterations in the level of gene flow among populations. Our findings suggest that even closely related species can have drastically different responses to climatic changes, making predicting the fate of individual species in the ongoing global warming a serious challenge.

Adaptive Landscape of Protein Variation in Human Exomes

Mon, 28 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

The human genome contains hundreds of thousands of missense mutations. However, only a handful of these variants are known to be adaptive, which implies that adaptation through protein sequence change is an extremely rare phenomenon in human evolution. Alternatively, existing methods may lack the power to pinpoint adaptive variation. We have developed and applied an Evolutionary Probability Approach (EPA) to discover candidate adaptive polymorphisms (CAPs) through the discordance between allelic evolutionary probabilities and their observed frequencies in human populations. EPA reveals thousands of missense CAPs, which suggest that a large number of previously optimal alleles experienced a reversal of fortune in the human lineage. We explored nonadaptive mechanisms to explain CAPs, including the effects of demography, mutation rate variability, and negative and positive selective pressures in modern humans. Many nonadaptive hypotheses were tested, but failed to explain the data, which suggests that a large proportion of CAP alleles have increased in frequency due to beneficial selection. This suggestion is supported by the fact that a vast majority of adaptive missense variants discovered previously in humans are CAPs, and hundreds of CAP alleles are protective in genotype–phenotype association data. Our integrated phylogenomic and population genetic EPA approach predicts the existence of thousands of nonneutral candidate variants in the human proteome. We expect this collection to be enriched in beneficial variation. The EPA approach can be applied to discover candidate adaptive variation in any protein, population, or species for which allele frequency data and reliable multispecies alignments are available.

Undersampling Genomes has Biased Time and Rate Estimates Throughout the Tree of Life

Mon, 28 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Genomic data drive evolutionary research on the relationships and timescale of life but the genomes of most species remain poorly sampled. Phylogenetic trees can be reconstructed reliably using small data sets and the same has been assumed for the estimation of divergence time with molecular clocks. However, we show here that undersampling of molecular data results in a bias expressed as disproportionately shorter branch lengths and underestimated divergence times in the youngest nodes and branches, termed the small sample artifact. In turn, this leads to increasing speciation and diversification rates towards the present. Any evolutionary analyses derived from these biased branch lengths and speciation rates will be similarly biased. The widely used timetrees of the major species-rich studies of amphibians, birds, mammals, and squamate reptiles are all data-poor and show upswings in diversification rate, suggesting that their results were biased by undersampling. Our results show that greater sampling of genomes is needed for accurate time and rate estimation, which are basic data used in ecological and evolutionary research.

Wobbling Forth and Drifting Back: The Evolutionary History and Impact of Bacterial tRNA Modifications

Mon, 28 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Along with tRNAs, enzymes that modify anticodon bases are a key aspect of translation across the tree of life. tRNA modifications extend wobble pairing, allowing specific (“target”) tRNAs to recognize multiple codons and cover for other (“nontarget”) tRNAs, often improving translation efficiency and accuracy. However, the detailed evolutionary history and impact of tRNA modifying enzymes has not been analyzed. Using ancestral reconstruction of five tRNA modifications across 1093 bacteria, we show that most modifications were ancestral to eubacteria, but were repeatedly lost in many lineages. Most modification losses coincided with evolutionary shifts in nontarget tRNAs, often driven by increased bias in genomic GC and associated codon use, or by genome reduction. In turn, the loss of tRNA modifications stabilized otherwise highly dynamic tRNA gene repertoires. Our work thus traces the complex history of bacterial tRNA modifications, providing the first clear evidence for their role in the evolution of bacterial translation.

Demographic History and Genetic Adaptation in the Himalayan Region Inferred from Genome-Wide SNP Genotypes of 49 Populations

Tue, 22 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

We genotyped 738 individuals belonging to 49 populations from Nepal, Bhutan, North India, or Tibet at over 500,000 SNPs, and analyzed the genotypes in the context of available worldwide population data in order to investigate the demographic history of the region and the genetic adaptations to the harsh environment. The Himalayan populations resembled other South and East Asians, but in addition displayed their own specific ancestral component and showed strong population structure and genetic drift. We also found evidence for multiple admixture events involving Himalayan populations and South/East Asians between 200 and 2,000 years ago. In comparisons with available ancient genomes, the Himalayans, like other East and South Asian populations, showed similar genetic affinity to Eurasian hunter-gatherers (a 24,000-year-old Upper Palaeolithic Siberian), and the related Bronze Age Yamnaya. The high-altitude Himalayan populations all shared a specific ancestral component, suggesting that genetic adaptation to life at high altitude originated only once in this region and subsequently spread. Combining four approaches to identifying specific positively selected loci, we confirmed that the strongest signals of high-altitude adaptation were located near the Endothelial PAS domain-containing protein 1 and Egl-9 Family Hypoxia Inducible Factor 1 loci, and discovered eight additional robust signals of high-altitude adaptation, five of which have strong biological functional links to such adaptation. In conclusion, the demographic history of Himalayan populations is complex, with strong local differentiation, reflecting both genetic and cultural factors; these populations also display evidence of multiple genetic adaptations to high-altitude environments.

The Evolution of Gene Expression Underlying Vision Loss in Cave Animals

Mon, 21 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Dissecting the evolutionary genetic processes underlying eye reduction and vision loss in obligate cave-dwelling organisms has been a long-standing challenge in evolutionary biology. Independent vision loss events in related subterranean organisms can provide critical insight into these processes as well as into the nature of convergent loss of complex traits. Advances in evolutionary developmental biology have illuminated the significant role of heritable gene expression variation in the evolution of new forms. Here, we analyze gene expression variation in adult eye tissue across the freshwater crayfish, representing four independent vision-loss events in caves. Species and individual expression patterns cluster by eye function rather than phylogeny, suggesting convergence in transcriptome evolution in independently blind animals. However, this clustering is not greater than what is observed in surface species with conserved eye function after accounting for phylogenetic expectations. Modeling expression evolution suggests that there is a common increase in evolutionary rates in the blind lineages, consistent with a relaxation of selective constraint maintaining optimal expression levels. This is evidence for a repeated loss of expression constraint in the transcriptomes of blind animals and that convergence occurs via a similar trajectory through genetic drift.

Biological Processes Modulating Longevity across Primates: A Phylogenetic Genome-Phenome Analysis

Mon, 21 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Aging is a complex process affecting different species and individuals in different ways. Comparing genetic variation across species with their aging phenotypes will help understanding the molecular basis of aging and longevity. Although most studies on aging have so far focused on short-lived model organisms, recent comparisons of genomic, transcriptomic, and metabolomic data across lineages with different lifespans are unveiling molecular signatures associated with longevity. Here, we examine the relationship between genomic variation and maximum lifespan across primate species. We used two different approaches. First, we searched for parallel amino-acid mutations that co-occur with increases in longevity across the primate linage. Twenty-five such amino-acid variants were identified, several of which have been previously reported by studies with different experimental setups and in different model organisms. The genes harboring these mutations are mainly enriched in functional categories such as wound healing, blood coagulation, and cardiovascular disorders. We demonstrate that these pathways are highly enriched for pleiotropic effects, as predicted by the antagonistic pleiotropy theory of aging. A second approach was focused on changes in rates of protein evolution across the primate phylogeny. Using the phylogenetic generalized least squares, we show that some genes exhibit strong correlations between their evolutionary rates and longevity-associated traits. These include genes in the Sphingosine 1-phosphate pathway, PI3K signaling, and the Thrombin/protease-activated receptor pathway, among other cardiovascular processes. Together, these results shed light into human senescence patterns and underscore the power of comparative genomics to identify pathways related to aging and longevity.

Repeated Cis-Regulatory Tuning of a Metabolic Bottleneck Gene during Evolution

Mon, 21 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Repeated evolutionary events imply underlying genetic constraints that can make evolutionary mechanisms predictable. Morphological traits are thought to evolve frequently through cis-regulatory changes because these mechanisms bypass constraints in pleiotropic genes that are reused during development. In contrast, the constraints acting on metabolic traits during evolution are less well studied. Here we show how a metabolic bottleneck gene has repeatedly adopted similar cis-regulatory solutions during evolution, likely due to its pleiotropic role integrating flux from multiple metabolic pathways. Specifically, the genes encoding phosphoglucomutase activity (PGM1/PGM2), which connect GALactose catabolism to glycolysis, have gained and lost direct regulation by the transcription factor Gal4 several times during yeast evolution. Through targeted mutations of predicted Gal4-binding sites in yeast genomes, we show this galactose-mediated regulation of PGM1/2 supports vigorous growth on galactose in multiple yeast species, including Saccharomyces uvarum and Lachancea kluyveri. Furthermore, the addition of galactose-inducible PGM1 alone is sufficient to improve the growth on galactose of multiple species that lack this regulation, including Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The strong association between regulation of PGM1/2 by Gal4 even enables remarkably accurate predictions of galactose growth phenotypes between closely related species. This repeated mode of evolution suggests that this specific cis-regulatory connection is a common way that diverse yeasts can govern flux through the pathway, likely due to the constraints imposed by this pleiotropic bottleneck gene. Since metabolic pathways are highly interconnected, we argue that cis-regulatory evolution might be widespread at pleiotropic genes that control metabolic bottlenecks and intersections.

How the Central American Seaway and an Ancient Northern Passage Affected Flatfish Diversification

Mon, 21 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

While the natural history of flatfish has been debated for decades, the mode of diversification of this biologically and economically important group has never been elucidated. To address this question, we assembled the largest molecular data set to date, covering > 300 species (out of ca. 800 extant), from 13 of the 14 known families over nine genes, and employed relaxed molecular clocks to uncover their patterns of diversification. As the fossil record of flatfish is contentious, we used sister species distributed on both sides of the American continent to calibrate clock models based on the closure of the Central American Seaway (CAS), and on their current species range. We show that flatfish diversified in two bouts, as species that are today distributed around the equator diverged during the closure of CAS, whereas those with a northern range diverged after this, hereby suggesting the existence of a postCAS closure dispersal for these northern species, most likely along a trans-Arctic northern route, a hypothesis fully compatible with paleogeographic reconstructions.

Translation: The Universal Structural Core of Life

Mon, 21 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

The Universal Gene Set of Life (UGSL) is common to genomes of all extant organisms. The UGSL is small, consisting of <100 genes, and is dominated by genes encoding the translation system. Here we extend the search for biological universality to three dimensions. We characterize and quantitate the universality of structure of macromolecules that are common to all of life. We determine that around 90% of prokaryotic ribosomal RNA (rRNA) forms a common core, which is the structural and functional foundation of rRNAs of all cytoplasmic ribosomes. We have established a database, which we call the Sparse and Efficient Representation of the Extant Biology (the SEREB database). This database contains complete and cross-validated rRNA sequences of species chosen, as far as possible, to sparsely and efficiently sample all known phyla. Atomic-resolution structures of ribosomes provide data for structural comparison and validation of sequence-based models. We developed a similarity statistic called pairing adjusted sequence entropy, which characterizes paired nucleotides by their adherence to covariation and unpaired nucleotides by conventional conservation of identity. For canonically paired nucleotides the unit of structure is the nucleotide pair. For unpaired nucleotides, the unit of structure is the nucleotide. By quantitatively defining the common core of rRNA, we systematize the conservation and divergence of the translational system across the tree of life, and can begin to understand the unique evolutionary pressures that cause its universality. We explore the relationship between ribosomal size and diversity, geological time, and organismal complexity.

Broad Genomic Sampling Reveals a Smut Pathogenic Ancestry of the Fungal Clade Ustilaginomycotina

Tue, 15 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Ustilaginomycotina is home to a broad array of fungi including important plant pathogens collectively called smut fungi. Smuts are biotrophs that produce characteristic perennating propagules called teliospores, one of which, Ustilago maydis, is a model genetic organism. Broad exploration of smut biology has been hampered by limited phylogenetic resolution of Ustilaginiomycotina as well as an overall lack of genomic data for members of this subphylum. In this study, we sequenced eight Ustilaginomycotina genomes from previously unrepresented lineages, deciphered ordinal-level phylogenetic relationships for the subphylum, and performed comparative analyses. Unlike other Basidiomycota subphyla, all sampled Ustilaginomycotina genomes are relatively small and compact. Ancestral state reconstruction analyses indicate that teliospore formation was present at the origin of the subphylum. Divergence time estimation dates the divergence of most extant smut fungi after that of grasses (Poaceae). However, we found limited conservation of well-characterized genes related to smut pathogenesis from U. maydis, indicating dissimilar pathogenic mechanisms exist across other smut lineages. The genomes of Malasseziomycetes are highly diverged from the other sampled Ustilaginomycotina, likely due to their unique history as mammal-associated lipophilic yeasts. Despite extensive genomic data, the phylogenetic placement of this class remains ambiguous. Although the sampled Ustilaginomycotina members lack many core enzymes for plant cell wall decomposition and starch catabolism, we identified several novel carbohydrate active enzymes potentially related to pectin breakdown. Finally, ∼50% of Ustilaginomycotina species-specific genes are present in previously undersampled and rare lineages, highlighting the importance of exploring fungal diversity as a resource for novel gene discovery.

Lipidome Evolution in Mammalian Tissues

Fri, 11 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Lipids are essential structural and functional components of cells. Little is known, however, about the evolution of lipid composition in different tissues. Here, we report a large-scale analysis of the lipidome evolution in six tissues of 32 species representing primates, rodents, and bats. While changes in genes’ sequence and expression accumulate proportionally to the phylogenetic distances, <2% of the lipidome evolves this way. Yet, lipids constituting this 2% cluster in specific functions shared among all tissues. Among species, human show the largest amount of species-specific lipidome differences. Many of the uniquely human lipidome features localize in the brain cortex and cluster in specific pathways implicated in cognitive disorders.

Extensive Differential Splicing Underlies Phenotypically Plastic Aphid Morphs

Wed, 02 May 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Phenotypic plasticity results in a diversity of phenotypes from a single genotype in response to environmental cues. To understand the molecular basis of phenotypic plasticity, studies have focused on differential gene expression levels between environmentally determined phenotypes. The extent of alternative splicing differences among environmentally determined phenotypes has largely been understudied. Here, we study alternative splicing differences among plastically produced morphs of the pea aphid using RNA-sequence data. Pea aphids express two separate polyphenisms (plasticity with discrete phenotypes): a wing polyphenism consisting of winged and wingless females and a reproduction polyphenism consisting of asexual and sexual females. We find that pea aphids alternatively splice 34% of their genes, a high percentage for invertebrates. We also find that there is extensive use of differential spliced events between genetically identical, polyphenic females. These differentially spliced events are enriched for exon skipping and mutually exclusive exon events that maintain the open reading frame, suggesting that polyphenic morphs use alternative splicing to produce phenotype-biased proteins. Many genes that are differentially spliced between polyphenic morphs have putative functions associated with their respective phenotypes. We find that the majority of differentially spliced genes is not differentially expressed genes. Our results provide a rich candidate gene list for future functional studies that would not have been previously considered based solely on gene expression studies, such as ensconsin in the reproductive polyphenism, and CAKI in the wing polyphenism. Overall, this study suggests an important role for alternative splicing in the expression of environmentally determined phenotypes.

Evolution of Darwin’s Peloric Gloxinia (Sinningia speciosa) Is Caused by a Null Mutation in a Pleiotropic TCP Gene

Fri, 27 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Unlike most crops, which were domesticated through long periods of selection by ancient humans, horticultural plants were primarily domesticated through intentional selection over short time periods. The molecular mechanisms underlying the origin and spread of novel traits in the domestication process have remained largely unexplored in horticultural plants. Gloxinia (Sinningia speciosa), whose attractive peloric flowers influenced the thoughts of Darwin, have been cultivated since the early 19th century, but its origin and genetic basis are currently unknown. By employing multiple experimental approaches including genetic analysis, genotype–phenotype associations, gene expression analysis, and functional interrogations, we showed that a single gene encoding a TCP protein, SsCYC, controls both floral orientation and zygomorphy in gloxinia. We revealed that a causal mutation responsible for the development of peloric gloxinia lies in a 10-bp deletion in the coding sequence of SsCYC. By combining genetic inference and literature searches, we have traced the putative ancestor and reconstructed the domestication path of the peloric gloxinia, in which a 10-bp deletion in SsCYC under selection triggered its evolution from the wild progenitor. The results presented here suggest that a simple genetic change in a pleiotropic gene can promote the elaboration of floral organs under intensive selection pressure.

Ancestral Function and Diversification of a Horizontally Acquired Oomycete Carboxylic Acid Transporter

Wed, 25 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) can equip organisms with novel genes, expanding the repertoire of genetic material available for evolutionary innovation and allowing recipient lineages to colonize new environments. However, few studies have characterized the functions of HGT genes experimentally or examined postacquisition functional divergence. Here, we report the use of ancestral sequence reconstruction and heterologous expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae to examine the evolutionary history of an oomycete transporter gene family that was horizontally acquired from fungi. We demonstrate that the inferred ancestral oomycete HGT transporter proteins and their extant descendants transport dicarboxylic acids which are intermediates of the tricarboxylic acid cycle. The substrate specificity profile of the most ancestral protein has largely been retained throughout the radiation of oomycetes, including in both plant and animal pathogens and in a free-living saprotroph, indicating that the ancestral HGT transporter function has been maintained by selection across a range of different lifestyles. No evidence of neofunctionalization in terms of substrate specificity was detected for different HGT transporter paralogues which have different patterns of temporal expression. However, a striking expansion of substrate range was observed for one plant pathogenic oomycete, with a HGT derived paralogue from Pythium aphanidermatum encoding a protein that enables tricarboxylic acid uptake in addition to dicarboxylic acid uptake. This demonstrates that HGT acquisitions can provide functional additions to the recipient proteome as well as the foundation material for the evolution of expanded protein functions.

Analysis of the Draft Genome of the Red Seaweed Gracilariopsis chorda Provides Insights into Genome Size Evolution in Rhodophyta

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Red algae (Rhodophyta) underwent two phases of large-scale genome reduction during their early evolution. The red seaweeds did not attain genome sizes or gene inventories typical of other multicellular eukaryotes. We generated a high-quality 92.1 Mb draft genome assembly from the red seaweed Gracilariopsis chorda, including methylation and small (s)RNA data. We analyzed these and other Archaeplastida genomes to address three questions: 1) What is the role of repeats and transposable elements (TEs) in explaining Rhodophyta genome size variation, 2) what is the history of genome duplication and gene family expansion/reduction in these taxa, and 3) is there evidence for TE suppression in red algae? We find that the number of predicted genes in red algae is relatively small (4,803–13,125 genes), particularly when compared with land plants, with no evidence of polyploidization. Genome size variation is primarily explained by TE expansion with the red seaweeds having the largest genomes. Long terminal repeat elements and DNA repeats are the major contributors to genome size growth. About 8.3% of the G. chorda genome undergoes cytosine methylation among gene bodies, promoters, and TEs, and 71.5% of TEs contain methylated-DNA with 57% of these regions associated with sRNAs. These latter results suggest a role for TE-associated sRNAs in RNA-dependent DNA methylation to facilitate silencing. We postulate that the evolution of genome size in red algae is the result of the combined action of TE spread and the concomitant emergence of its epigenetic suppression, together with other important factors such as changes in population size.

Experimental Evolution of Yeast for High-Temperature Tolerance

Thu, 19 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Thermotolerance is a polygenic trait that contributes to cell survival and growth under unusually high temperatures. Although some genes associated with high-temperature growth (Htg+) have been identified, how cells accumulate mutations to achieve prolonged thermotolerance is still mysterious. Here, we conducted experimental evolution of a Saccharomyces cerevisiae laboratory strain with stepwise temperature increases for it to grow at 42 °C. Whole genome resequencing of 14 evolved strains and the parental strain revealed a total of 153 mutations in the evolved strains, including single nucleotide variants, small INDELs, and segmental duplication/deletion events. Some mutations persisted from an intermediate temperature to 42 °C, so they might be Htg+ mutations. Functional categorization of mutations revealed enrichment of exonic mutations in the SWI/SNF complex and F-type ATPase, pointing to their involvement in high-temperature tolerance. In addition, multiple mutations were found in a general stress-associated signal transduction network consisting of Hog1 mediated pathway, RAS-cAMP pathway, and Rho1-Pkc1 mediated cell wall integrity pathway, implying that cells can achieve Htg+ partly through modifying existing stress regulatory mechanisms. Using pooled segregant analysis of five Htg+ phenotype-orientated pools, we inferred causative mutations for growth at 42 °C and identified those mutations with stronger impacts on the phenotype. Finally, we experimentally validated a number of the candidate Htg+ mutations. This study increased our understanding of the genetic basis of yeast tolerance to high temperature.

Evolution of Genome Architecture in Archaea: Spontaneous Generation of a New Chromosome in Haloferax volcanii

Mon, 16 Apr 2018 00:00:00 GMT

The common ancestry of archaea and eukaryotes is evident in their genome architecture. All eukaryotic and several archaeal genomes consist of multiple chromosomes, each replicated from multiple origins. Three scenarios have been proposed for the evolution of this genome architecture: 1) mutational diversification of a multi-copy chromosome; 2) capture of a new chromosome by horizontal transfer; 3) acquisition of new origins and splitting into two replication-competent chromosomes. We report an example of the third scenario: the multi-origin chromosome of the archaeon Haloferax volcanii has split into two elements via homologous recombination. The newly generated elements are bona fide chromosomes, because each bears “chromosomal” replication origins, rRNA loci, and essential genes. The new chromosomes were stable during routine growth but additional genetic manipulation, which involves selective bottlenecks, provoked further rearrangements. To the best of our knowledge, rearrangement of a naturally evolved prokaryotic genome to generate two new chromosomes has not been described previously.

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Genome Biology & Evolution

Up in the Air: The Emerging Science of Dust and Sandstorm Microbes

Thu, 16 Aug 2018 00:00:00 GMT

On October 13, 2017, a sandstorm blew off the west coast of Africa, creating a plume of dust that stretched thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean and reached the Caribbean five days later. Each year, up to five billion tons of dust is ejected into the earth’s atmosphere, mostly from large deserts like the Sahara in Africa and the Gobi in Asia. Such dust plumes affect all regions of the planet, with some individual plumes even circling the globe.

On the Origin of Compositional Features of Ribosomes

Mon, 30 Jul 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Ribosomes are highly abundant in cells and comprise, besides RNAs of varying lengths, 55–80 similarly sized, short proteins. This seemingly unusual composition is thought to have resulted from selection for rapid autocatalytic ribosome production. Here, we demonstrate that ribosomal protein-splitting mutations cannot accelerate ribosome production. The autocatalytic explanation is also unnecessary, because protein lengths generally decline with expression levels. Although ribosomal proteins are shorter than expected from their expression levels, they are not outliers among members of large protein complexes in mean protein length or coefficient of variation. These observations are explainable because 1) shortening proteins lowers their synthetic cost and reduces the waste from mistranslation-induced protein dysfunction and degradation, 2) such benefits rise with expression levels, and 3) members of large complexes participate in more protein–protein interactions so are less tolerant to mistranslation. These and other considerations suggest that the compositional features of ribosomes originate from cellular energy economics.

Pattern of DNA Methylation in Daphnia: Evolutionary Perspective

Mon, 30 Jul 2018 00:00:00 GMT

DNA methylation is an evolutionary ancient epigenetic modification that is phylogenetically widespread. Comparative studies of the methylome across a diverse range of non-conventional and conventional model organisms is expected to help reveal how the landscape of DNA methylation and its functions have evolved. Here, we explore the DNA methylation profile of two species of the crustacean Daphnia using whole genome bisulfite sequencing. We then compare our data with the methylomes of two insects and two mammals to achieve a better understanding of the function of DNA methylation in Daphnia. Using RNA-sequencing data for all six species, we investigate the correlation between DNA methylation and gene expression. DNA methylation in Daphnia is mainly enriched within the coding regions of genes, with the highest methylation levels observed at exons 2–4. In contrast, vertebrate genomes are globally methylated, and increase towards the highest methylation levels observed at exon 2, and maintained across the rest of the gene body. Although DNA methylation patterns differ among all species, their methylation profiles share a bimodal distribution across the genomes. Genes with low levels of CpG methylation and gene expression are mainly enriched for species specific genes. In contrast, genes associated with high methylated CpG sites are highly transcribed and evolutionary conserved across all species. Finally, the positive correlation between internal exons and gene expression potentially points to an evolutionary conserved mechanism, whereas the negative regulation of gene expression via methylation of promoters and exon 1 is potentially a secondary mechanism that has been evolved in vertebrates.

Impacts of Recurrent Hitchhiking on Divergence and Demographic Inference in Drosophila

Fri, 13 Jul 2018 00:00:00 GMT

In species with large population sizes such as Drosophila, natural selection may have substantial effects on genetic diversity and divergence. However, the implications of this widespread nonneutrality for standard population genetic assumptions and practices remain poorly resolved. Here, we assess the consequences of recurrent hitchhiking (RHH), in which selective sweeps occur at a given rate randomly across the genome. We use forward simulations to examine two published RHH models for D. melanogaster, reflecting relatively common/weak and rare/strong selection. We find that unlike the rare/strong RHH model, the common/weak model entails a slight degree of Hill–Robertson interference in high recombination regions. We also find that the common/weak RHH model is more consistent with our genome-wide estimate of the proportion of substitutions fixed by natural selection between D. melanogaster and D. simulans (19%). Finally, we examine how these models of RHH might bias demographic inference. We find that these RHH scenarios can bias demographic parameter estimation, but such biases are weaker for parameters relating recently diverged populations, and for the common/weak RHH model in general. Thus, even for species with important genome-wide impacts of selective sweeps, neutralist demographic inference can have some utility in understanding the histories of recently diverged populations.

Recombination Signal in Mycobacterium tuberculosis Stems from Reference-guided Assemblies and Alignment Artefacts

Fri, 13 Jul 2018 00:00:00 GMT

DNA acquisition via genetic recombination is considered advantageous as it has the potential to bring together beneficial mutations that emerge independently within a population. Furthermore, recombination is considered to contribute to the maintenance of genome stability by purging slightly deleterious mutations. The prevalence of recombination differs among prokaryotic species and depends on the accessibility of DNA transfer mechanisms. An exceptional example is the human pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) where no clear transfer mechanisms have been so far characterized and the presence of recombination is questioned. Here, we analyze completely assembled MTB genomes in search for evidence of recombination. We find that putative recombination events are enriched in strains reconstructed by reference-guided assembly and in regions with unreliable alignments. In addition, assembly and alignment artefacts introduce phylogenetic signals that are conflicting the established MTB phylogeny. Our results reveal that the so far reported recombination events in MTB are likely to stem from methodological artefacts. We conclude that no reliable signal of recombination is observed in the currently available MTB genomes. Moreover, our study demonstrates the limitations of reference-guided genome assembly for phylogenetic reconstructions. Rigorously de novo assembled genomes of high quality are mandatory in order to distinguish true evolutionary signal from noise, in particular for low diversity species such as MTB.

Unexpected Genomic and Phenotypic Diversity of Mycobacterium africanum Lineage 5 Affects Drug Resistance, Protein Secretion, and Immunogenicity

Fri, 13 Jul 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Mycobacterium africanum consists of Lineages L5 and L6 of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTBC) and causes human tuberculosis in specific regions of Western Africa, but is generally not transmitted in other parts of the world. Since M. africanum is evolutionarily closely placed between the globally dispersed Mycobacterium tuberculosis and animal-adapted MTBC-members, these lineages provide valuable insight into M. tuberculosis evolution. Here, we have collected 15 M. africanum L5 strains isolated in France over 4 decades. Illumina sequencing and phylogenomic analysis revealed a previously underappreciated diversity within L5, which consists of distinct sublineages. L5 strains caused relatively high levels of extrapulmonary tuberculosis and included multi- and extensively drug-resistant isolates, especially in the newly defined sublineage L5.2. The specific L5 sublineages also exhibit distinct phenotypic characteristics related to in vitro growth, protein secretion and in vivo immunogenicity. In particular, we identified a PE_PGRS and PPE-MPTR secretion defect specific for sublineage L5.2, which was independent of PPE38. Furthermore, L5 isolates were able to efficiently secrete and induce immune responses against ESX-1 substrates contrary to previous predictions. These phenotypes of Type VII protein secretion and immunogenicity provide valuable information to better link genome sequences to phenotypic traits and thereby understand the evolution of the MTBC.

Genome-Wide Changes in Protein Translation Efficiency Are Associated with Autism

Sat, 07 Jul 2018 00:00:00 GMT

We previously proposed that changes in the efficiency of protein translation are associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). This hypothesis connects environmental factors and genetic factors because each can alter translation efficiency. For genetic factors, we previously tested our hypothesis using a small set of ASD-associated genes, a small set of ASD-associated variants, and a statistic to quantify by how much a single nucleotide variant (SNV) in a protein coding region changes translation speed. In this study, we confirm and extend our hypothesis using a published set of 1,800 autism quartets (parents, one affected child and one unaffected child) and genome-wide variants. Then, we extend the test statistic to combine translation efficiency with other possibly relevant variables: ribosome profiling data, presence/absence of CpG dinucleotides, and phylogenetic conservation. The inclusion of ribosome profiling abundances strengthens our results for male–male sibling pairs. The inclusion of CpG information strengthens our results for female–female pairs, giving an insight into the significant gender differences in autism incidence. By combining the single-variant test statistic for all variants in a gene, we obtain a single gene score to evaluate how well a gene distinguishes between affected and unaffected siblings. Using statistical methods, we compute gene sets that have some power to distinguish between affected and unaffected siblings by translation efficiency of gene variants. Pathway and enrichment analysis of those gene sets suggest the importance of Wnt signaling pathways, some other pathways related to cancer, ATP binding, and ATP-ase pathways in the etiology of ASDs.

Gene-by-Gene or Localized Dosage Compensation on the Neo-X Chromosome in Drosophila miranda

Sat, 07 Jul 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Many organisms have a global mechanism for dosage compensation (DC) operating along the entire male X chromosome, which equalizes gene expression on the male X with that on the two Xs in females and/or on autosomes. At the initial stage of sex chromosome evolution, however, gene-by-gene (or localized) DC may also be necessary because the degeneration of Y-linked genes occurs independently at different times. We therefore tested whether the up-regulation of X-linked genes depends on the status of their Y-linked homologs, using the young sex chromosomes, neo-X and neo-Y, in Drosophila miranda. In support of the presence of gene-by-gene DC, the extent of up-regulation in males was indeed higher for neo-X-linked genes with pseudogenized neo-Y-linked homologs than for neo-X-linked genes with functional neo-Y-linked homologs. Further molecular evolutionary analysis also supports the idea that many individual neo-X-linked genes first acquired the potential for up-regulation, which then enabled the pseudogenization of neo-Y-linked homologs, without serious deleterious effects on male fitness.

Multiple Rounds of Artificial Selection Promote Microbe Secondary Domestication—The Case of Cachaça Yeasts

Mon, 02 Jul 2018 00:00:00 GMT

The study of microbe domestication has witnessed major advances that contribute to a better understanding of the emergence of artificially selected phenotypes and set the foundations of their rational improvement for biotechnology. Several features make Saccharomyces cerevisiae an ideal model for such a study, notably the availability of a catalogue of signatures of artificial selection and the extensive knowledge available on its biological processes. Here, we investigate with population and comparative genomics a set of strains used for cachaça fermentation, a Brazilian beverage based on the fermentation of sugar cane juice. We ask if the selective pressures posed by this fermentation have given rise to a domesticated lineage distinct from the ones already known, like wine, beer, bread, and sake yeasts. Our results show that cachaça yeasts derive from wine yeasts that have undergone an additional round of domestication, which we define as secondary domestication. As a consequence, cachaça strains combine features of wine yeasts, such as the presence of genes relevant for wine fermentation and advantageous gene inactivations, with features of beer yeasts like resistance to the effects of inhibitory compounds present in molasses. For other markers like those related to sulfite resistance and biotin metabolism our analyses revealed distributions more complex than previously reported that support the secondary domestication hypothesis. We propose a multilayered microbe domestication model encompassing not only transitions from wild to primarily domesticated populations, as in the case of wine yeasts, but also secondary domestications like those of cachaça yeasts.

Global Ramifications of Dust and Sandstorm Microbiota

Fri, 29 Jun 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Dust and sandstorm events inject substantial quantities of foreign microorganisms into global ecosystems, with the ability to impact distant environments. The majority of these microorganisms originate from deserts and drylands where the soil is laden with highly stress-resistant microbes capable of thriving under extreme environmental conditions, and a substantial portion of them survive long journeys through the atmosphere. This large-scale transmission of highly resilient alien microbial contaminants raises concerns with regards to the invasion of sensitive and/or pristine sink environments, and to human health—concerns exacerbated by increases in the rate of desertification. Further increases in the transport of dust-associated microbiota could extend the spread of foreign microbes to new ecosystems, increase their load in present sink environments, disrupt ecosystem balance, and potentially introduce new pathogens. Our present understanding of these microorganisms, their phylogenic affiliations and functional significance, is insufficient to determine their impact. The purpose of this review is to provide an overview of available data regarding dust and sandstorm microbiota and their potential ramifications on human and ecosystem health. We conclude by discussing current gaps in dust and sandstorm microbiota research, and the need for collaborative studies involving high-resolution meta-omic approaches in conjunction with extensive ecological time-series studies to advance the field towards an improved and sufficient understanding of these invisible atmospheric travelers and their global ramifications.

Evidence for a Large Expansion and Subfunctionalization of Globin Genes in Sea Anemones

Wed, 27 Jun 2018 00:00:00 GMT

The globin gene superfamily has been well-characterized in vertebrates, however, there has been limited research in early-diverging lineages, such as phylum Cnidaria. This study aimed to identify globin genes in multiple cnidarian lineages, and use bioinformatic approaches to characterize the evolution, structure, and expression of these genes. Phylogenetic analyses and in silico protein predictions showed that all cnidarians have undergone an expansion of globin genes, which likely have a hexacoordinate protein structure. Our protein modeling has also revealed the possibility of a single pentacoordinate globin lineage in anthozoan species. Some cnidarian globin genes displayed tissue and development specific expression with very few orthologous genes similarly expressed across species. Our phylogenetic analyses also revealed that eumetazoan globin genes form a polyphyletic relationship with vertebrate globin genes. Overall, our analyses suggest that a Ngb-like and GbX-like gene were most likely present in the globin gene repertoire for the last common ancestor of eumetazoans. The identification of a large-scale expansion and subfunctionalization of globin genes in actiniarians provides an excellent starting point to further our understanding of the evolution and function of the globin gene superfamily in early-diverging lineages.

The High-Quality Genome Sequence of the Oceanic Island Endemic Species Drosophila guanche Reveals Signals of Adaptive Evolution in Genes Related to Flight and Genome Stability

Wed, 27 Jun 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Drosophila guanche is a member of the obscura group that originated in the Canary Islands archipelago upon its colonization by D. subobscura. It evolved into a new species in the laurisilva, a laurel forest present in wet regions that in the islands have only minor long-term weather fluctuations. Oceanic island endemic species such as D. guanche can become model species to investigate not only the relative role of drift and adaptation in speciation processes but also how population size affects nucleotide variation. Moreover, the previous identification of two satellite DNAs in D. guanche makes this species attractive for studying how centromeric DNA evolves. As a prerequisite for its establishment as a model species suitable to address all these questions, we generated a high-quality D. guanche genome sequence composed of 42 cytologically mapped scaffolds, which are assembled into six super-scaffolds (one per chromosome). The comparative analysis of the D. guanche proteome with that of twelve other Drosophila species identified 151 genes that were subject to adaptive evolution in the D. guanche lineage, with a subset of them being involved in flight and genome stability. For example, the Centromere Identifier (CID) protein, directly interacting with centromeric satellite DNA, shows signals of adaptation in this species. Both genomic analyses and FISH of the two satellites would support an ongoing replacement of centromeric satellite DNA in D. guanche.

Twisted Tales: Insights into Genome Diversity of Ciliates Using Single-Cell ‘Omics

Tue, 26 Jun 2018 00:00:00 GMT

The emergence of robust single-cell ‘omics techniques enables studies of uncultivable species, allowing for the (re)discovery of diverse genomic features. In this study, we combine single-cell genomics and transcriptomics to explore genome evolution in ciliates (a > 1 Gy old clade). Analysis of the data resulting from these single-cell ‘omics approaches show: 1) the description of the ciliates in the class Karyorelictea as “primitive” is inaccurate because their somatic macronuclei contain loci of varying copy number (i.e., they have been processed by genome rearrangements from the zygotic nucleus); 2) gene-sized somatic chromosomes exist in the class Litostomatea, consistent with Balbiani’s (1890) observation of giant chromosomes in this lineage; and 3) gene scrambling exists in the underexplored Postciliodesmatophora (the classes Heterotrichea and Karyorelictea, abbreviated here as the Po-clade), one of two major clades of ciliates. Together these data highlight the complex evolutionary patterns underlying germline genome architectures in ciliates and provide a basis for further exploration of principles of genome evolution in diverse microbial lineages.