Graduate Student Excellence Awards

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

Eligibility: Current graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who received their primary doctoral-level degree no earlier than one year prior to the start of the annual meeting of the society (minus any career disruption or delay). A candidate for the award must become a member of the Society at least a month before the first day of the annual meeting. Approximately eight winners will be selected every year to cover the broad spectrum of research covered by SMBE.

Past Recipients

Year Name Title

Hannes Dittberner, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany

Blessing or curse? Evolutionary significance of gene-flow between two endangered plant species


Malgorzata Gazda, CIBIO, University of Porto, Vairão, Portugal

A generic mechanism for sexual dichromatism in birds


Elora López, Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, United States

Within-colony variation and the heritability of somatic mutations in clonal, colonial corals


Alina G. Mikhaylova, Center for Mitochondrial Functional Genomics, Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University, Kaliningrad, Russian Federation

Mitochondrial mutational spectrum in poikilothermic versus homeothermic vertebrates: effects of the temperature and lifespan


Rachel Moran, Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, United States

Genomic resources for darters (Percidae: Etheostominae) provide insight into postzygotic barriers implicated in speciation


Emily Roycroft, School of BioSciences, The University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

Museum genomics unlocks a historical record of extinction in Australia


Matthew Shepherd, Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom

Gene regulatory network evolution through the rewiring of transcription factors in a bacterial experimental model

Matthew R Jones, University of Montana, Missoula, USA
The origin and spread of locally adaptive seasonal camouflage in snowshoe hares
2018 Harry Kemble, INSERM, France The mechanistic basis of epistatic variety in a metabolic pathway uncovered by high-resolution fitness interaction mapping
 2017 Anna Vickrey, University of Utah, USA  Domestic pigeon’s checkered past: wing color pattern variation is associated with one gene, two mechanisms, and interspecific introgression
 2016 Katya Kosheleva, Harvard University, USA Weakly selected standing variants dominate adaptation for 1000 generations in sexual, laboratory evolved yeast populations 
 2015 Aline Muyle, Université Lyon 1, Lyon, France. Evolution of dosage compensation in the dioecious plant Silene latifolia
 2014 Alex Cagan, Max Planck Institute, Leipzig, Germany  Genetic variants underlying tameness and agression.
2013 Karen Wong Miller, UC Berkeley, USA Genome-Wide Scans Reveal a Young Candidate Speciation Gene in Drosophila athabasca.
2012 Elizabeth Perry, University Of Oregon, USA Repeatability in evolution varies with scale, organism, and the nature of selection.
2011 Kerry Geiler-Samerotte, Harvard University, USA The selective cost of misfolded protein toxicity and a concomitant evolutionary adaptation.
2010 Takashi Tsuchimatsu, University of Zurich, Switzerland Evolution of self-compatibility in Arabidopsis thaliana by a mutation in the male specificity gene.
2009 Joshua Bayes, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, USA The molecular basis of hybrid sterility caused by the hybrid sterility gene Odysseus.
2008 Jean-François Gout, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France Translational control of intron splicing in eukaryotes.
2007 David Des Marais, Duke University, USA Gene duplication allows substrate specialization in a biosynthetic enzyme.
2006 Jennifer Cork, North Carolina State University, USA Characterizing three candidate balanced polymorphisms in Arabidopsis thaliana: a reverse genetics approach.
Joanna Kelley, University of Washington, USA Positive selection in primate tooth enamelin and evidence for human population specific adaptation.
2005 Leslie Collins, Massey University, New Zealand Cutting it in the RNA World: the spliceosome and splicing in ancestral eukaryotes.
2004 Barbara Engelhardt, University of California at Berkeley, USA Protein function prediction using a Bayesian model of molecular function evolution.
2003 Yoav Gilad, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany Loss of olfactory receptor genes is coupled to the acquisition of full trichromatic color vision.
2002 Ying Chen, University of Munich, Germany Functional analysis of phylogenetically conserved sequence elements in intron 1 of the Drosophila melanogaster Adh gene.
2001 Jeffrey Townsend, Harvard University, USA Global gene expression variation in natural isolates of Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
2000 Eric A. Gaucher, University of Florida, USA Functional analysis of proteins using covarion-based evolutionary approaches: elongation factors.
1999 Dennis Lavrov, University of Michigan, USA Arthropod phylogeny based on gene arrangement and other characters from mitochondrial DNA.
1998 Mark Siegal, Harvard University, USA Functional evolutionary analysis of genes coplaced into the Drosophila genome.
1997 Christiane Biermann, State University of New York at Stony Brook, USA Sequence variation in the sea urchin sperm protein BINDIN is generated by recombination and length mutations.
Paul Taylor, University of Leicester, UK Diversity and mutational analyses of the Y-specific mini-satellite, MSY1.
1996 Dmitri A. Petrov, Harvard University, USA Birth and death of processed pseudogenes in Drosophila: Molecular evolution of a non-LTR retrotransposable element.
1995 Hiroki Oota, University of Tokyo, Japan Phylogenetic analysis of 2,000 year old human remains of Japan (Yayoi period) based on mitochondrial DNA sequences.
1994 Alan Cooper, Smithsonian Institution, USA Avian evolution in New Zealand as revealed by mitochondrial DNA.
Janet Kornegay, University of California at Berkeley, USA Molecular adaptation of a leaf-eating bird: stomach lysozyme of the hoatzin.
1993 Youn-Ho Lee, University of California at San Diego, USA The divergence of species-specific abalone sperm lysin is promoted by positive Darwinian selection: implications regarding speciation.

Award Information

Eligibility: Current graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who received their primary doctoral-level degree no earlier than one year prior to the start of the annual meeting of the society (minus any career disruption or delay). A candidate for the award must become a member of the Society at least a month before the first day of the annual meeting. Approximately eight winners will be selected every year to cover the broad spectrum of research covered by SMBE.


Application Requirements

  • An abstract (250 word max) for the proposed presentation.
  • A Curriculum Vitae.
Application: Via the abstract submission system for the annual meeting for which the award applies.  

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

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MBE | Most Read

Molecular Biology and Evolution

Publication of Masatoshi Nei’s Memoir “My Life as a Molecular Evolutionist”

Sat, 10 Apr 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Molecular Biology and Evolution (MBE) is pleased to announcethat Masatoshi Nei recently published a memoir entitled “My Life as a Molecular Evolutionist” from the Institute of Genomics and Evolutionary Medicine, Temple University Philadelphia, PA. The purpose of this memoir is to discuss the origin and development of the discipline of molecular evolution from the point of view of a cofounder of MBE. He was born in Japan in 1931 and immigrated to the United States in 1969 to do the work on molecular evolution. Since then, most of his professional work was done in the United States. In this memoir, he discusses how he grew up in Japan and how he ended up with working on molecular evolution, including some of enjoyment and grief in conducting the work. He emphasizes the importance of working with collaborators and indicates that many of his studies were done in these collaborations. The memoir is about 200 pages long and consists of 9 chapters and additional sections (see Box 1).

Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution, Council and Business Meetings, 2020

Thu, 04 Feb 2021 00:00:00 GMT

HAPHPIPE: Haplotype Reconstruction and Phylodynamics for Deep Sequencing of Intrahost Viral Populations

Sat, 26 Dec 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Deep sequencing of viral populations using next-generation sequencing (NGS) offers opportunities to understand and investigate evolution, transmission dynamics, and population genetics. Currently, the standard practice for processing NGS data to study viral populations is to summarize all the observed sequences from a sample as a single consensus sequence, thus discarding valuable information about the intrahost viral molecular epidemiology. Furthermore, existing analytical pipelines may only analyze genomic regions involved in drug resistance, thus are not suited for full viral genome analysis. Here, we present HAPHPIPE, a HAplotype and PHylodynamics PIPEline for genome-wide assembly of viral consensus sequences and haplotypes. The HAPHPIPE protocol includes modules for quality trimming, error correction, de novo assembly, alignment, and haplotype reconstruction. The resulting consensus sequences, haplotypes, and alignments can be further analyzed using a variety of phylogenetic and population genetic software. HAPHPIPE is designed to provide users with a single pipeline to rapidly analyze sequences from viral populations generated from NGS platforms and provide quality output properly formatted for downstream evolutionary analyses.

Rampant False Detection of Adaptive Phenotypic Optimization by ParTI-Based Pareto Front Inference

Mon, 21 Dec 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Organisms face tradeoffs in performing multiple tasks. Identifying the optimal phenotypes maximizing the organismal fitness (or Pareto front) and inferring the relevant tasks allow testing phenotypic adaptations and help delineate evolutionary constraints, tradeoffs, and critical fitness components, so are of broad interest. It has been proposed that Pareto fronts can be identified from high-dimensional phenotypic data, including molecular phenotypes such as gene expression levels, by fitting polytopes (lines, triangles, tetrahedrons, and so on), and a program named ParTI was recently introduced for this purpose. ParTI has identified Pareto fronts and inferred phenotypes best for individual tasks (or archetypes) from numerous data sets such as the beak morphologies of Darwin’s finches and mRNA concentrations in human tumors, implying evolutionary optimizations of the involved traits. Nevertheless, the reliabilities of these findings are unknown. Using real and simulated data that lack evolutionary optimization, we here report extremely high false-positive rates of ParTI. The errors arise from phylogenetic relationships or population structures of the organisms analyzed and the flexibility of data analysis in ParTI that is equivalent to p-hacking. Because these problems are virtually universal, our findings cast doubt on almost all ParTI-based results and suggest that reliably identifying Pareto fronts and archetypes from high-dimensional phenotypic data are currently generally difficult.

The American Paddlefish Genome Provides Novel Insights into Chromosomal Evolution and Bone Mineralization in Early Vertebrates

Thu, 17 Dec 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Sturgeons and paddlefishes (Acipenseriformes) occupy the basal position of ray-finned fishes, although they have cartilaginous skeletons as in Chondrichthyes. This evolutionary status and their morphological specializations make them a research focus, but their complex genomes (polyploidy and the presence of microchromosomes) bring obstacles and challenges to molecular studies. Here, we generated the first high-quality genome assembly of the American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) at a chromosome level. Comparative genomic analyses revealed a recent species-specific whole-genome duplication event, and extensive chromosomal changes, including head-to-head fusions of pairs of intact, large ancestral chromosomes within the paddlefish. We also provide an overview of the paddlefish SCPP (secretory calcium-binding phosphoprotein) repertoire that is responsible for tissue mineralization, demonstrating that the earliest flourishing of SCPP members occurred at least before the split between Acipenseriformes and teleosts. In summary, this genome assembly provides a genetic resource for understanding chromosomal evolution in polyploid nonteleost fishes and bone mineralization in early vertebrates.

Like Wings of a Bird: Functional Divergence and Complementarity between HLA-A and HLA-B Molecules

Tue, 15 Dec 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes are among the most polymorphic of our genome, as a likely consequence of balancing selection related to their central role in adaptive immunity. HLA-A and HLA-B genes were recently suggested to evolve through a model of joint divergent asymmetric selection conferring all human populations, including those with severe loss of diversity, an equivalent immune potential. However, the mechanisms by which these two genes might undergo joint evolution while displaying very distinct allelic profiles in populations are still unknown. To address this issue, we carried out extensive data analyses (among which factorial correspondence analysis and linear modeling) on 2,909 common and rare HLA-A, HLA-B, and HLA-C alleles and 200,000 simulated pathogenic peptides by taking into account sequence variation, predicted peptide-binding affinity and HLA allele frequencies in 123 populations worldwide. Our results show that HLA-A and HLA-B (but not HLA-C) molecules maintain considerable functional divergence in almost all populations, which likely plays an instrumental role in their immune defense. We also provide robust evidence of functional complementarity between HLA-A and HLA-B molecules, which display asymmetric relationships in terms of amino acid diversity at both inter- and intraprotein levels and in terms of promiscuous or fastidious peptide-binding specificities. Like two wings of a flying bird, the functional complementarity of HLA-A and HLA-B is a perfect example, in our genome, of duplicated genes sharing their capacity of assuming common vital functions while being submitted to complex and sometimes distinct environmental pressures.

Genome Reduction Is Associated with Bacterial Pathogenicity across Different Scales of Temporal and Ecological Divergence

Sat, 12 Dec 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Emerging bacterial pathogens threaten global health and food security, and so it is important to ask whether these transitions to pathogenicity have any common features. We present a systematic study of the claim that pathogenicity is associated with genome reduction and gene loss. We compare broad-scale patterns across all bacteria, with detailed analyses of Streptococcus suis, an emerging zoonotic pathogen of pigs, which has undergone multiple transitions between disease and carriage forms. We find that pathogenicity is consistently associated with reduced genome size across three scales of divergence (between species within genera, and between and within genetic clusters of S. suis). Although genome reduction is also found in mutualist and commensal bacterial endosymbionts, genome reduction in pathogens cannot be solely attributed to the features of their ecology that they share with these species, that is, host restriction or intracellularity. Moreover, other typical correlates of genome reduction in endosymbionts (reduced metabolic capacity, reduced GC content, and the transient expansion of nonfunctional elements) are not consistently observed in pathogens. Together, our results indicate that genome reduction is a consistent correlate of pathogenicity in bacteria.

Run or Die in the Evolution of New MicroRNAs—Testing the Red Queen Hypothesis on De Novo New Genes

Fri, 11 Dec 2020 00:00:00 GMT

The Red Queen hypothesis depicts evolution as the continual struggle to adapt. According to this hypothesis, new genes, especially those originating from nongenic sequences (i.e., de novo genes), are eliminated unless they evolve continually in adaptation to a changing environment. Here, we analyze two Drosophila de novo miRNAs that are expressed in a testis-specific manner with very high rates of evolution in their DNA sequence. We knocked out these miRNAs in two sibling species and investigated their contributions to different fitness components. We observed that the fitness contributions of miR-975 in Drosophila simulans seem positive, in contrast to its neutral contributions in D. melanogaster, whereas miR-983 appears to have negative contributions in both species, as the fitness of the knockout mutant increases. As predicted by the Red Queen hypothesis, the fitness difference of these de novo miRNAs indicates their different fates.

A Spatially Explicit Model of Stabilizing Selection for Improving Phylogenetic Inference

Fri, 11 Dec 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Ultraconserved elements (UCEs) are stretches of hundreds of nucleotides with highly conserved cores flanked by variable regions. Although the selective forces responsible for the preservation of UCEs are unknown, they are nonetheless believed to contain phylogenetically meaningful information from deep to shallow divergence events. Phylogenetic applications of UCEs assume the same degree of rate heterogeneity applies across the entire locus, including variable flanking regions. We present a Wright–Fisher model of selection on nucleotides (SelON) which includes the effects of mutation, drift, and spatially varying, stabilizing selection for an optimal nucleotide sequence. The SelON model assumes the strength of stabilizing selection follows a position-dependent Gaussian function whose exact shape can vary between UCEs. We evaluate SelON by comparing its performance to a simpler and spatially invariant GTR+Γ model using an empirical data set of 400 vertebrate UCEs used to determine the phylogenetic position of turtles. We observe much improvement in model fit of SelON over the GTR+Γ model, and support for turtles as sister to lepidosaurs. Overall, the UCE-specific parameters SelON estimates provide a compact way of quantifying the strength and variation in selection within and across UCEs. SelON can also be extended to include more realistic mapping functions between sequence and stabilizing selection as well as allow for greater levels of rate heterogeneity. By more explicitly modeling the nature of selection on UCEs, SelON and similar approaches can be used to better understand the biological mechanisms responsible for their preservation across highly divergent taxa and long evolutionary time scales.

Origin of a Giant Sex Chromosome

Thu, 10 Dec 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Chromosome size and morphology vary within and among species, but little is known about the proximate or ultimate causes of these differences. Cichlid fish species in the tribe Oreochromini share an unusual giant chromosome that is ∼3 times longer than the other chromosomes. This giant chromosome functions as a sex chromosome in some of these species. We test two hypotheses of how this giant sex chromosome may have evolved. The first hypothesis proposes that it evolved by accumulating repetitive elements as recombination was reduced around a dominant sex determination locus, as suggested by canonical models of sex chromosome evolution. An alternative hypothesis is that the giant sex chromosome originated via the fusion of an autosome with a highly repetitive B chromosome, one of which carried a sex determination locus. We test these hypotheses using comparative analysis of chromosome-scale cichlid and teleost genomes. We find that the giant sex chromosome consists of three distinct regions based on patterns of recombination, gene and transposable element content, and synteny to the ancestral autosome. The WZ sex determination locus encompasses the last ∼105 Mb of the 134-Mb giant chromosome. The last 47 Mb of the giant chromosome shares no obvious homology to any ancestral chromosome. Comparisons across 69 teleost genomes reveal that the giant sex chromosome contains unparalleled amounts of endogenous retroviral elements, immunoglobulin genes, and long noncoding RNAs. The results favor the B chromosome fusion hypothesis for the origin of the giant chromosome.

Assessing Uncertainty in the Rooting of the SARS-CoV-2 Phylogeny

Wed, 09 Dec 2020 00:00:00 GMT

The rooting of the SARS-CoV-2 phylogeny is important for understanding the origin and early spread of the virus. Previously published phylogenies have used different rootings that do not always provide consistent results. We investigate several different strategies for rooting the SARS-CoV-2 tree and provide measures of statistical uncertainty for all methods. We show that methods based on the molecular clock tend to place the root in the B clade, whereas methods based on outgroup rooting tend to place the root in the A clade. The results from the two approaches are statistically incompatible, possibly as a consequence of deviations from a molecular clock or excess back-mutations. We also show that none of the methods provide strong statistical support for the placement of the root in any particular edge of the tree. These results suggest that phylogenetic evidence alone is unlikely to identify the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and we caution against strong inferences regarding the early spread of the virus based solely on such evidence.

Reduced Global Genetic Differentiation of Exploited Marine Fish Species

Tue, 08 Dec 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Knowledge on genetic structure is key to understand species connectivity patterns and to define the spatiotemporal scales over which conservation management plans should be designed and implemented. The distribution of genetic diversity (within and among populations) greatly influences species ability to cope and adapt to environmental changes, ultimately determining their long-term resilience to ecological disturbances. Yet, the drivers shaping connectivity and structure in marine fish populations remain elusive, as are the effects of fishing activities on genetic subdivision. To investigate these questions, we conducted a meta-analysis and compiled genetic differentiation data (FST/ΦST estimates) for more than 170 fish species from over 200 published studies globally distributed. We modeled the effects of multiple life-history traits, distance metrics, and methodological factors on observed population differentiation indices and specifically tested whether any signal arising from different exposure to fishing exploitation could be detected. Although the myriad of variables shaping genetic structure makes it challenging to isolate the influence of single drivers, results showed a significant correlation between commercial importance and genetic structure, with widespread lower population differentiation in commercially exploited species. Moreover, models indicate that variables commonly used as proxy for connectivity, such as larval pelagic duration, might be insufficient, and suggest that deep-sea species may disperse further. Overall, these results contribute to the growing body of knowledge on marine genetic connectivity and suggest a potential effect of commercial fisheries on the homogenization of genetic diversity, highlighting the need for additional research focused on dispersal ecology to ensure long-term sustainability of exploited marine species.

Degree of Functional Divergence in Duplicates Is Associated with Distinct Roles in Plant Evolution

Tue, 08 Dec 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Gene duplication is a major mechanism to create new genes. After gene duplication, some duplicated genes undergo functionalization, whereas others largely maintain redundant functions. Duplicated genes comprise various degrees of functional diversification in plants. However, the evolutionary fate of high and low diversified duplicates is unclear at genomic scale. To infer high and low diversified duplicates in Arabidopsis thaliana genome, we generated a prediction method for predicting whether a pair of duplicate genes was subjected to high or low diversification based on the phenotypes of knock-out mutants. Among 4,017 pairs of recently duplicated A. thaliana genes, 1,052 and 600 are high and low diversified duplicate pairs, respectively. The predictions were validated based on the phenotypes of generated knock-down transgenic plants. We determined that the high diversified duplicates resulting from tandem duplications tend to have lineage-specific functions, whereas the low diversified duplicates produced by whole-genome duplications are related to essential signaling pathways. To assess the evolutionary impact of high and low diversified duplicates in closely related species, we compared the retention rates and selection pressures on the orthologs of A. thaliana duplicates in two closely related species. Interestingly, high diversified duplicates resulting from tandem duplications tend to be retained in multiple lineages under positive selection. Low diversified duplicates by whole-genome duplications tend to be retained in multiple lineages under purifying selection. Taken together, the functional diversities determined by different duplication mechanisms had distinct effects on plant evolution.

Tracing the Genetic Legacy of the Tibetan Empire in the Balti

Mon, 07 Dec 2020 00:00:00 GMT

The rise and expansion of Tibetan Empire in the 7th to 9th centuries AD affected the course of history across East Eurasia, but the genetic impact of Tibetans on surrounding populations remains undefined. We sequenced 60 genomes for four populations from Pakistan and Tajikistan to explore their demographic history. We showed that the genomes of Balti people from Baltistan comprised 22.6–26% Tibetan ancestry. We inferred a single admixture event and dated it to about 39–21 generations ago, a period that postdated the conquest of Baltistan by the ancient Tibetan Empire. The analyses of mitochondrial DNA, Y, and X chromosome data indicated that both ancient Tibetan males and females were involved in the male-biased dispersal. Given the fact that the Balti people adopted Tibetan language and culture in history, our study suggested the impact of Tibetan Empire on Baltistan involved dominant cultural and minor demic diffusion.

A Two-Locus System with Strong Epistasis Underlies Rapid Parasite-Mediated Evolution of Host Resistance

Tue, 01 Dec 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Parasites are a major evolutionary force, driving adaptive responses in host populations. Although the link between phenotypic response to parasite-mediated natural selection and the underlying genetic architecture often remains obscure, this link is crucial for understanding the evolution of resistance and predicting associated allele frequency changes in the population. To close this gap, we monitored the response to selection during epidemics of a virulent bacterial pathogen, Pasteuria ramosa, in a natural host population of Daphnia magna. Across two epidemics, we observed a strong increase in the proportion of resistant phenotypes as the epidemics progressed. Field and laboratory experiments confirmed that this increase in resistance was caused by selection from the local parasite. Using a genome-wide association study, we built a genetic model in which two genomic regions with dominance and epistasis control resistance polymorphism in the host. We verified this model by selfing host genotypes with different resistance phenotypes and scoring their F1 for segregation of resistance and associated genetic markers. Such epistatic effects with strong fitness consequences in host–parasite coevolution are believed to be crucial in the Red Queen model for the evolution of genetic recombination.

Frequent Assembly of Chimeric Complexes in the Protein Interaction Network of an Interspecies Yeast Hybrid

Mon, 30 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Hybrids between species often show extreme phenotypes, including some that take place at the molecular level. In this study, we investigated the phenotypes of an interspecies diploid hybrid in terms of protein–protein interactions inferred from protein correlation profiling. We used two yeast species, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Saccharomyces uvarum, which are interfertile, but yet have proteins diverged enough to be differentiated using mass spectrometry. Most of the protein–protein interactions are similar between hybrid and parents, and are consistent with the assembly of chimeric complexes, which we validated using an orthogonal approach for the prefoldin complex. We also identified instances of altered protein–protein interactions in the hybrid, for instance, in complexes related to proteostasis and in mitochondrial protein complexes. Overall, this study uncovers the likely frequent occurrence of chimeric protein complexes with few exceptions, which may result from incompatibilities or imbalances between the parental proteomes.

Tirant Stealthily Invaded Natural Drosophila melanogaster Populations during the Last Century

Sat, 28 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

It was long thought that solely three different transposable elements (TEs)—the I-element, the P-element, and hobo—invaded natural Drosophila melanogaster populations within the last century. By sequencing the “living fossils” of Drosophila research, that is, D. melanogaster strains sampled from natural populations at different time points, we show that a fourth TE, Tirant, invaded D. melanogaster populations during the past century. Tirant likely spread in D. melanogaster populations around 1938, followed by the I-element, hobo, and, lastly, the P-element. In addition to the recent insertions of the canonical Tirant, D. melanogaster strains harbor degraded Tirant sequences in the heterochromatin which are likely due to an ancient invasion, likely predating the split of D. melanogaster and D. simulans. These degraded insertions produce distinct piRNAs that were unable to prevent the novel Tirant invasion. In contrast to the I-element, P-element, and hobo, we did not find that Tirant induces any hybrid dysgenesis symptoms. This absence of apparent phenotypic effects may explain the late discovery of the Tirant invasion. Recent Tirant insertions were found in all investigated natural populations. Populations from Tasmania carry distinct Tirant sequences, likely due to a founder effect. By investigating the TE composition of natural populations and strains sampled at different time points, insertion site polymorphisms, piRNAs, and phenotypic effects, we provide a comprehensive study of a natural TE invasion.

The Evolutionary Dynamics of Genetic Incompatibilities Introduced by Duplicated Genes in Arabidopsis thaliana

Sat, 28 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Although gene duplications provide genetic backup and allow genomic changes under relaxed selection, they may potentially limit gene flow. When different copies of a duplicated gene are pseudofunctionalized in different genotypes, genetic incompatibilities can arise in their hybrid offspring. Although such cases have been reported after manual crosses, it remains unclear whether they occur in nature and how they affect natural populations. Here, we identified four duplicated-gene based incompatibilities including one previously not reported within an artificial Arabidopsis intercross population. Unexpectedly, however, for each of the genetic incompatibilities we also identified the incompatible alleles in natural populations based on the genomes of 1,135 Arabidopsis accessions published by the 1001 Genomes Project. Using the presence of incompatible allele combinations as phenotypes for GWAS, we mapped genomic regions that included additional gene copies which likely rescue the genetic incompatibility. Reconstructing the geographic origins and evolutionary trajectories of the individual alleles suggested that incompatible alleles frequently coexist, even in geographically closed regions, and that their effects can be overcome by additional gene copies collectively shaping the evolutionary dynamics of duplicated genes during population history.

A New Catalog of Structural Variants in 1,301 A. thaliana Lines from Africa, Eurasia, and North America Reveals a Signature of Balancing Selection at Defense Response Genes

Sat, 28 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Genomic variation in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana has been extensively used to understand evolutionary processes in natural populations, mainly focusing on single-nucleotide polymorphisms. Conversely, structural variation has been largely ignored in spite of its potential to dramatically affect phenotype. Here, we identify 155,440 indels and structural variants ranging in size from 1 bp to 10 kb, including presence/absence variants (PAVs), inversions, and tandem duplications in 1,301 A. thaliana natural accessions from Morocco, Madeira, Europe, Asia, and North America. We show evidence for strong purifying selection on PAVs in genes, in particular for housekeeping genes and homeobox genes, and we find that PAVs are concentrated in defense-related genes (R-genes, secondary metabolites) and F-box genes. This implies the presence of a “core” genome underlying basic cellular processes and a “flexible” genome that includes genes that may be important in spatially or temporally varying selection. Further, we find an excess of intermediate frequency PAVs in defense response genes in nearly all populations studied, consistent with a history of balancing selection on this class of genes. Finally, we find that PAVs in genes involved in the cold requirement for flowering (vernalization) and drought response are strongly associated with temperature at the sites of origin.

Genetic Architecture and Fitness of Bacterial Interspecies Hybrids

Sat, 28 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Integration of a conjugative plasmid into a bacterial chromosome can promote the transfer of chromosomal DNA to other bacteria. Intraspecies chromosomal conjugation is believed responsible for creating the global pathogens Klebsiella pneumoniae ST258 and Escherichia coli ST1193. Interspecies conjugation is also possible but little is known about the genetic architecture or fitness of such hybrids. To study this, we generated by conjugation 14 hybrids of E. coli and Salmonella enterica. These species belong to different genera, diverged from a common ancestor >100 Ma, and share a conserved order of orthologous genes with ∼15% nucleotide divergence. Genomic analysis revealed that all but one hybrid had acquired a contiguous segment of donor E. coli DNA, replacing a homologous region of recipient Salmonella chromosome, and ranging in size from ∼100 to >4,000 kb. Recombination joints occurred in sequences with higher-than-average nucleotide identity. Most hybrid strains suffered a large reduction in growth rate, but the magnitude of this cost did not correlate with the length of foreign DNA. Compensatory evolution to ameliorate the cost of low-fitness hybrids pointed towards disruption of complex genetic networks as a cause. Most interestingly, 4 of the 14 hybrids, in which from 45% to 90% of the Salmonella chromosome was replaced with E. coli DNA, showed no significant reduction in growth fitness. These data suggest that the barriers to creating high-fitness interspecies hybrids may be significantly lower than generally appreciated with implications for the creation of novel species.

Odorant Receptors for Detecting Flowering Plant Cues Are Functionally Conserved across Moths and Butterflies

Tue, 24 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Odorant receptors (ORs) are essential for plant–insect interactions. However, despite the global impacts of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) as major herbivores and pollinators, little functional data are available about Lepidoptera ORs involved in plant-volatile detection. Here, we initially characterized the plant-volatile-sensing function(s) of 44 ORs from the cotton bollworm Helicoverpa armigera, and subsequently conducted a large-scale comparative analysis that establishes how most orthologous ORs have functionally diverged among closely related species whereas some rare ORs are functionally conserved. Specifically, our systematic analysis of H. armigera ORs cataloged the wide functional scope of the H. armigera OR repertoire, and also showed that HarmOR42 and its Spodoptera littoralis ortholog are functionally conserved. Pursuing this, we characterized the HarmOR42-orthologous ORs from 11 species across the Glossata suborder and confirmed the HarmOR42 orthologs form a unique OR lineage that has undergone strong purifying selection in Glossata species and whose members are tuned with strong specificity to phenylacetaldehyde, a floral scent component common to most angiosperms. In vivo studies via HarmOR42 knockout support that HarmOR42-related ORs are essential for host-detection by sensing phenylacetaldehyde. Our work also supports that these ORs coevolved with the tube-like proboscis, and has maintained functional stability throughout the long-term coexistence of Lepidoptera with angiosperms. Thus, beyond providing a rich empirical resource for delineating the precise functions of H. armigera ORs, our results enable a comparative analysis of insect ORs that have apparently facilitated and currently sustain the intimate adaptations and ecological interactions among nectar feeding insects and flowering plants.

Evolution of Hominin Detoxification: Neanderthal and Modern Human Ah Receptor Respond Similarly to TCDD

Tue, 24 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

In studies of hominin adaptations to fire use, the role of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) in the evolution of detoxification has been highlighted, including statements that the modern human AHR confers a significantly better capacity to deal with toxic smoke components than the Neanderthal AHR. To evaluate this, we compared the AHR-controlled induction of cytochrome P4501A1 (CYP1A1) mRNA in HeLa human cervix epithelial adenocarcinoma cells transfected with an Altai-Neanderthal or a modern human reference AHR expression construct, and exposed to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). We compared the complete AHR mRNA sequences including the untranslated regions (UTRs), maintaining the original codon usage. We observe no significant difference in CYP1A1 induction by TCDD between Neanderthal and modern human AHR, whereas a 150–1,000 times difference was previously reported in a study of the AHR coding region optimized for mammalian codon usage and expressed in rat cells. Our study exemplifies that expression in a homologous cellular background is of major importance to determine (ancient) protein activity. The Neanderthal and modern human dose–response curves almost coincide, except for a slightly higher extrapolated maximum for the Neanderthal AHR, possibly caused by a 5′-UTR G-variant known from modern humans (rs7796976). Our results are strongly at odds with a major role of the modern human AHR in the evolution of hominin detoxification of smoke components and consistent with our previous study based on 18 relevant genes in addition to AHR, which concluded that efficient detoxification alleles are more dominant in ancient hominins, chimpanzees, and gorillas than in modern humans.

Origins and Long-Term Patterns of Copy-Number Variation in Rhesus Macaques

Mon, 23 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Mutations play a key role in the development of disease in an individual and the evolution of traits within species. Recent work in humans and other primates has clarified the origins and patterns of single-nucleotide variants, showing that most arise in the father’s germline during spermatogenesis. It remains unknown whether larger mutations, such as deletions and duplications of hundreds or thousands of nucleotides, follow similar patterns. Such mutations lead to copy-number variation (CNV) within and between species, and can have profound effects by deleting or duplicating genes. Here, we analyze patterns of CNV mutations in 32 rhesus macaque individuals from 14 parent–offspring trios. We find the rate of CNV mutations per generation is low (less than one per genome) and we observe no correlation between parental age and the number of CNVs that are passed on to offspring. We also examine segregating CNVs within the rhesus macaque sample and compare them to a similar data set from humans, finding that both species have far more segregating deletions than duplications. We contrast this with long-term patterns of gene copy-number evolution between 17 mammals, where the proportion of deletions that become fixed along the macaque lineage is much smaller than the proportion of segregating deletions. These results suggest purifying selection acting on deletions, such that the majority of them are removed from the population over time. Rhesus macaques are an important biomedical model organism, so these results will aid in our understanding of this species and the disease models it supports.

Genomic Analysis Enlightens Agaricales Lifestyle Evolution and Increasing Peroxidase Diversity

Thu, 19 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

As actors of global carbon cycle, Agaricomycetes (Basidiomycota) have developed complex enzymatic machineries that allow them to decompose all plant polymers, including lignin. Among them, saprotrophic Agaricales are characterized by an unparalleled diversity of habitats and lifestyles. Comparative analysis of 52 Agaricomycetes genomes (14 of them sequenced de novo) reveals that Agaricales possess a large diversity of hydrolytic and oxidative enzymes for lignocellulose decay. Based on the gene families with the predicted highest evolutionary rates—namely cellulose-binding CBM1, glycoside hydrolase GH43, lytic polysaccharide monooxygenase AA9, class-II peroxidases, glucose–methanol–choline oxidase/dehydrogenases, laccases, and unspecific peroxygenases—we reconstructed the lifestyles of the ancestors that led to the extant lignocellulose-decomposing Agaricomycetes. The changes in the enzymatic toolkit of ancestral Agaricales are correlated with the evolution of their ability to grow not only on wood but also on leaf litter and decayed wood, with grass-litter decomposers as the most recent eco-physiological group. In this context, the above families were analyzed in detail in connection with lifestyle diversity. Peroxidases appear as a central component of the enzymatic toolkit of saprotrophic Agaricomycetes, consistent with their essential role in lignin degradation and high evolutionary rates. This includes not only expansions/losses in peroxidase genes common to other basidiomycetes but also the widespread presence in Agaricales (and Russulales) of new peroxidases types not found in wood-rotting Polyporales, and other Agaricomycetes orders. Therefore, we analyzed the peroxidase evolution in Agaricomycetes by ancestral-sequence reconstruction revealing several major evolutionary pathways and mapped the appearance of the different enzyme types in a time-calibrated species tree.

Eusociality Shapes Convergent Patterns of Molecular Evolution across Mitochondrial Genomes of Snapping Shrimps

Thu, 19 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Eusociality is a highly conspicuous and ecologically impactful behavioral syndrome that has evolved independently across multiple animal lineages. So far, comparative genomic analyses of advanced sociality have been mostly limited to insects. Here, we study the only clade of animals known to exhibit eusociality in the marine realm—lineages of socially diverse snapping shrimps in the genus Synalpheus. To investigate the molecular impact of sociality, we assembled the mitochondrial genomes of eight Synalpheus species that represent three independent origins of eusociality and analyzed patterns of molecular evolution in protein-coding genes. Synonymous substitution rates are lower and potential signals of relaxed purifying selection are higher in eusocial relative to noneusocial taxa. Our results suggest that mitochondrial genome evolution was shaped by eusociality-linked traits—extended generation times and reduced effective population sizes that are hallmarks of advanced animal societies. This is the first direct evidence of eusociality impacting genome evolution in marine taxa. Our results also strongly support the idea that eusociality can shape genome evolution through profound changes in life history and demography.

dbCNS: A New Database for Conserved Noncoding Sequences

Mon, 16 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

We developed dbCNS (, a new database for conserved noncoding sequences (CNSs). CNSs exist in many eukaryotes and are assumed to be involved in protein expression control. Version 1 of dbCNS, introduced here, includes a powerful and precise CNS identification pipeline for multiple vertebrate genomes. Mutations in CNSs may induce morphological changes and cause genetic diseases. For this reason, many vertebrate CNSs have been identified, with special reference to primate genomes. We integrated ∼6.9 million CNSs from many vertebrate genomes into dbCNS, which allows users to extract CNSs near genes of interest using keyword searches. In addition to CNSs, dbCNS contains published genome sequences of 161 species. With purposeful taxonomic sampling of genomes, users can employ CNSs as queries to reconstruct CNS alignments and phylogenetic trees, to evaluate CNS modifications, acquisitions, and losses, and to roughly identify species with CNSs having accelerated substitution rates. dbCNS also produces links to dbSNP for searching pathogenic single-nucleotide polymorphisms in human CNSs. Thus, dbCNS connects morphological changes with genetic diseases. A test analysis using 38 gnathostome genomes was accomplished within 30 s. dbCNS results can evaluate CNSs identified by other stand-alone programs using genome-scale data.

Three Signatures of Adaptive Polymorphism Exemplified by Malaria-Associated Genes

Fri, 13 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Malaria has been one of the strongest selective pressures on our species. Many of the best-characterized cases of adaptive evolution in humans are in genes tied to malaria resistance. However, the complex evolutionary patterns at these genes are poorly captured by standard scans for nonneutral evolution. Here, we present three new statistical tests for selection based on population genetic patterns that are observed more than once among key malaria resistance loci. We assess these tests using forward-time evolutionary simulations and apply them to global whole-genome sequencing data from humans, and thus we show that they are effective at distinguishing selection from neutrality. Each test captures a distinct evolutionary pattern, here called Divergent Haplotypes, Repeated Shifts, and Arrested Sweeps, associated with a particular period of human prehistory. We clarify the selective signatures at known malaria-relevant genes and identify additional genes showing similar adaptive evolutionary patterns. Among our top outliers, we see a particular enrichment for genes involved in erythropoiesis and for genes previously associated with malaria resistance, consistent with a major role for malaria in shaping these patterns of genetic diversity. Polymorphisms at these genes are likely to impact resistance to malaria infection and contribute to ongoing host–parasite coevolutionary dynamics.

Properties of Markov Chain Monte Carlo Performance across Many Empirical Alignments

Fri, 13 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Nearly all current Bayesian phylogenetic applications rely on Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods to approximate the posterior distribution for trees and other parameters of the model. These approximations are only reliable if Markov chains adequately converge and sample from the joint posterior distribution. Although several studies of phylogenetic MCMC convergence exist, these have focused on simulated data sets or select empirical examples. Therefore, much that is considered common knowledge about MCMC in empirical systems derives from a relatively small family of analyses under ideal conditions. To address this, we present an overview of commonly applied phylogenetic MCMC diagnostics and an assessment of patterns of these diagnostics across more than 18,000 empirical analyses. Many analyses appeared to perform well and failures in convergence were most likely to be detected using the average standard deviation of split frequencies, a diagnostic that compares topologies among independent chains. Different diagnostics yielded different information about failed convergence, demonstrating that multiple diagnostics must be employed to reliably detect problems. The number of taxa and average branch lengths in analyses have clear impacts on MCMC performance, with more taxa and shorter branches leading to more difficult convergence. We show that the usage of models that include both Γ-distributed among-site rate variation and a proportion of invariable sites is not broadly problematic for MCMC convergence but is also unnecessary. Changes to heating and the usage of model-averaged substitution models can both offer improved convergence in some cases, but neither are a panacea.

Diversification of Fungal Chitinases and Their Functional Differentiation in Histoplasma capsulatum

Fri, 13 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Chitinases enzymatically hydrolyze chitin, a highly abundant and utilized polymer of N-acetyl-glucosamine. Fungi are a rich source of chitinases; however, the phylogenetic and functional diversity of fungal chitinases are not well understood. We surveyed fungal chitinases from 373 publicly available genomes, characterized domain architecture, and conducted phylogenetic analyses of the glycoside hydrolase (GH18) domain. This large-scale analysis does not support the previous division of fungal chitinases into three major clades (A, B, C) as chitinases previously assigned to the “C” clade are not resolved as distinct from the “A” clade. Fungal chitinase diversity was partly shaped by horizontal gene transfer, and at least one clade of bacterial origin occurs among chitinases previously assigned to the “B” clade. Furthermore, chitin-binding domains (including the LysM domain) do not define specific clades, but instead are found more broadly across clades of chitinases. To gain insight into biological function diversity, we characterized all eight chitinases (Cts) from the thermally dimorphic fungus, Histoplasma capsulatum: six A clade, one B clade, and one formerly classified C clade chitinases. Expression analyses showed variable induction of chitinase genes in the presence of chitin but preferential expression of CTS3 in the mycelial stage. Activity assays demonstrated that Cts1 (B-I), Cts2 (A-V), Cts3 (A-V), Cts4 (A-V) have endochitinase activities with varying degrees of chitobiosidase function. Cts6 (C-I) has activity consistent with N-acetyl-glucosaminidase exochitinase function and Cts8 (A-II) has chitobiase activity. These results suggest chitinase activity is variable even within subclades and that predictions of functionality require more sophisticated models.

In Vivo Microbial Coevolution Favors Host Protection and Plastic Downregulation of Immunity

Thu, 12 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Microbiota can protect their hosts from infection. The short timescales in which microbes can evolve presents the possibility that “protective microbes” can take-over from the immune system of longer-lived hosts in the coevolutionary race against pathogens. Here, we found that coevolution between a protective bacterium (Enterococcus faecalis) and a virulent pathogen (Staphylococcus aureus) within an animal population (Caenorhabditis elegans) resulted in more disease suppression than when the protective bacterium adapted to uninfected hosts. At the same time, more protective E. faecalis populations became costlier to harbor and altered the expression of 134 host genes. Many of these genes appear to be related to the mechanism of protection, reactive oxygen species production. Crucially, more protective E. faecalis populations downregulated a key immune gene, , known to be effective against S. aureus infection. These results suggest that a microbial line of defense is favored by microbial coevolution and may cause hosts to plastically divest of their own immunity.

Special Care Is Needed in Applying Phylogenetic Comparative Methods to Gene Trees with Speciation and Duplication Nodes

Tue, 10 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

How gene function evolves is a central question of evolutionary biology. It can be investigated by comparing functional genomics results between species and between genes. Most comparative studies of functional genomics have used pairwise comparisons. Yet it has been shown that this can provide biased results, as genes, like species, are phylogenetically related. Phylogenetic comparative methods should be used to correct for this, but they depend on strong assumptions, including unbiased tree estimates relative to the hypothesis being tested. Such methods have recently been used to test the “ortholog conjecture,” the hypothesis that functional evolution is faster in paralogs than in orthologs. Although pairwise comparisons of tissue specificity (τ) provided support for the ortholog conjecture, phylogenetic independent contrasts did not. Our reanalysis on the same gene trees identified problems with the time calibration of duplication nodes. We find that the gene trees used suffer from important biases, due to the inclusion of trees with no duplication nodes, to the relative age of speciations and duplications, to systematic differences in branch lengths, and to non-Brownian motion of tissue specificity on many trees. We find that incorrect implementation of phylogenetic method in empirical gene trees with duplications can be problematic. Controlling for biases allows successful use of phylogenetic methods to study the evolution of gene function and provides some support for the ortholog conjecture using three different phylogenetic approaches.

An Experimental Test of Adaptive Introgression in Locally Adapted Populations of Splash Pool Copepods

Fri, 06 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

As species struggle to keep pace with the rapidly warming climate, adaptive introgression of beneficial alleles from closely related species or populations provides a possible avenue for rapid adaptation. We investigate the potential for adaptive introgression in the copepod, Tigriopus californicus, by hybridizing two populations with divergent heat tolerance limits. We subjected hybrids to strong heat selection for 15 generations followed by whole-genome resequencing. Utilizing a hybridize evolve and resequence (HER) technique, we can identify loci responding to heat selection via a change in allele frequency. We successfully increased the heat tolerance (measured as LT50) in selected lines, which was coupled with higher frequencies of alleles from the southern (heat tolerant) population. These repeatable changes in allele frequencies occurred on all 12 chromosomes across all independent selected lines, providing evidence that heat tolerance is polygenic. These loci contained genes with lower protein-coding sequence divergence than the genome-wide average, indicating that these loci are highly conserved between the two populations. In addition, these loci were enriched in genes that changed expression patterns between selected and control lines in response to a nonlethal heat shock. Therefore, we hypothesize that the mechanism of heat tolerance divergence is explained by differential gene expression of highly conserved genes. The HER approach offers a unique solution to identifying genetic variants contributing to polygenic traits, especially variants that might be missed through other population genomic approaches.

Genomic Architecture of Rapid Parallel Adaptation to Fresh Water in a Wild Fish

Wed, 04 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Rapid adaptation to novel environments may drive changes in genomic regions through natural selection. However, the genetic architecture underlying these adaptive changes is still poorly understood. Using population genomic approaches, we investigated the genomic architecture that underlies rapid parallel adaptation of Coilia nasus to fresh water by comparing four freshwater-resident populations with their ancestral anadromous population. Linkage disequilibrium network analysis and population genetic analyses revealed two putative large chromosome inversions on LG6 and LG22, which were enriched for outlier loci and exhibited parallel association with freshwater adaptation. Drastic frequency shifts and elevated genetic differentiation were observed for the two chromosome inversions among populations, suggesting that both inversions would undergo divergent selection between anadromous and resident ecotypes. Enrichment analysis of genes within chromosome inversions showed significant enrichment of genes involved in metabolic process, immunoregulation, growth, maturation, osmoregulation, and so forth, which probably underlay differences in morphology, physiology and behavior between the anadromous and freshwater-resident forms. The availability of beneficial standing genetic variation, large optimum shift between marine and freshwater habitats, and high efficiency of selection with large population size could lead to the observed rapid parallel adaptive genomic change. We propose that chromosomal inversions might have played an important role during the evolution of rapid parallel ecological divergence in the face of environmental heterogeneity in C. nasus. Our study provides insights into the genomic basis of rapid adaptation of complex traits in novel habitats and highlights the importance of structural genomic variants in analyses of ecological adaptation.

Characterizing Transcriptional Regulatory Sequences in Coronaviruses and Their Role in Recombination

Wed, 04 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Novel coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, SARS, and MERS, often originate from recombination events. The mechanism of recombination in RNA viruses is template switching. Coronavirus transcription also involves template switching at specific regions, called transcriptional regulatory sequences (TRS). It is hypothesized but not yet verified that TRS sites are prone to recombination events. Here, we developed a tool called SuPER to systematically identify TRS in coronavirus genomes and then investigated whether recombination is more common at TRS. We ran SuPER on 506 coronavirus genomes and identified 465 TRS-L and 3,509 TRS-B. We found that the TRS-L core sequence (CS) and the secondary structure of the leader sequence are generally conserved within coronavirus genera but different between genera. By examining the location of recombination breakpoints with respect to TRS-B CS, we observed that recombination hotspots are more frequently colocated with TRS-B sites than expected.

SLC2A12 of SLC2 Gene Family in Bird Provides Functional Compensation for the Loss of SLC2A4 Gene in Other Vertebrates

Tue, 03 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Avian genomes are small and lack some genes that are conserved in the genomes of most other vertebrates including nonavian sauropsids. One hypothesis stated that paralogs may provide biochemical or physiological compensation for certain gene losses; however, no functional evidence has been reported to date. By integrating evolutionary analysis, physiological genomics, and experimental gene interference, we clearly demonstrate functional compensation for gene loss. A large-scale phylogenetic analysis of over 1,400 SLC2 gene sequences identifies six new SLC2 genes from nonmammalian vertebrates and divides the SLC2 gene family into four classes. Vertebrates retain class III SLC2 genes but partially lack the more recent duplicates of classes I and II. Birds appear to have completely lost the SLC2A4 gene that encodes an important insulin-sensitive GLUT in mammals. We found strong evidence for positive selection, indicating that the N-termini of SLC2A4 and SLC2A12 have undergone diversifying selection in birds and mammals, and there is a significant correlation between SLC2A12 functionality and basal metabolic rates in endotherms. Physiological genomics have uncovered that SLC2A12 expression and allelic variants are associated with insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels in wild birds. Functional tests have indicated that SLC2A12 abrogation causes hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, and high relative activity, thus increasing energy expenditures that resemble a diabetic phenotype. These analyses suggest that the SLC2A12 gene not only functionally compensates insulin response for SLC2A4 loss but also affects daily physical behavior and basal metabolic rate during bird evolution, highlighting that older genes retain a higher level of functional diversification.

Antibiotic Treatment Regimes as a Driver of the Global Population Dynamics of a Major Gonorrhea Lineage

Tue, 03 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

The Neisseria gonorrhoeae multilocus sequence type (ST) 1901 is among the lineages most commonly associated with treatment failure. Here, we analyze a global collection of ST-1901 genomes to shed light on the emergence and spread of alleles associated with reduced susceptibility to extended-spectrum cephalosporins (ESCs).The genetic diversity of ST-1901 falls into a minor and a major clade, both of which were inferred to have originated in East Asia. The dispersal of the major clade from Asia happened in two separate waves expanding from ∼1987 and 1996, respectively. Both waves first reached North America, and from there spread to Europe and Oceania, with multiple secondary reintroductions to Asia.The ancestor of the second wave acquired the penA 34.001 allele, which significantly reduces susceptibility to ESCs. Our results suggest that the acquisition of this allele granted the second wave a fitness advantage at a time when ESCs became the key drug class used to treat gonorrhea. Following its establishment globally, the lineage has served as a reservoir for the repeated emergence of clones fully resistant to the ESC ceftriaxone, an essential drug for effective treatment of gonorrhea.We infer that the effective population sizes of both clades went into decline as treatment schemes shifted from fluoroquinolones via ESC monotherapy to dual therapy with ceftriaxone and azithromycin in Europe and the United States. Despite the inferred recent population size decline, the short evolutionary path from the penA 34.001 allele to alleles providing full ceftriaxone resistance is a cause of concern.

Phenotypic Plasticity Contributes to Maize Adaptation and Heterosis

Tue, 03 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Plant phenotypic plasticity describes altered phenotypic performance of an individual when grown in different environments. Exploring genetic architecture underlying plant plasticity variation may help mitigate the detrimental effects of a rapidly changing climate on agriculture, but little research has been done in this area to date. In the present study, we established a population of 976 maize F1 hybrids by crossing 488 diverse inbred lines with two elite testers. Genome-wide association study identified hundreds of quantitative trait loci associated with phenotypic plasticity variation across diverse F1 hybrids, the majority of which contributed very little variance, in accordance with the polygenic nature of these traits. We identified several quantitative trait locus regions that may have been selected during the tropical-temperate adaptation process. We also observed heterosis in terms of phenotypic plasticity, in addition to the traditional genetic value differences measured between hybrid and inbred lines, and the pattern of which was affected by genetic background. Our results demonstrate a landscape of phenotypic plasticity in maize, which will aid in the understanding of its genetic architecture, its contribution to adaptation and heterosis, and how it may be exploited for future maize breeding in a rapidly changing environment.

A Phylodynamic Workflow to Rapidly Gain Insights into the Dispersal History and Dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 Lineages

Tue, 03 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented number of genomic sequences of SARS-CoV-2 have been generated and shared with the scientific community. The unparalleled volume of available genetic data presents a unique opportunity to gain real-time insights into the virus transmission during the pandemic, but also a daunting computational hurdle if analyzed with gold-standard phylogeographic approaches. To tackle this practical limitation, we here describe and apply a rapid analytical pipeline to analyze the spatiotemporal dispersal history and dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 lineages. As a proof of concept, we focus on the Belgian epidemic, which has had one of the highest spatial densities of available SARS-CoV-2 genomes. Our pipeline has the potential to be quickly applied to other countries or regions, with key benefits in complementing epidemiological analyses in assessing the impact of intervention measures or their progressive easement.

GBE | Most Read

Genome Biology & Evolution

Highlight: Birds Take tRNA Efficiency to New Heights

Sun, 11 Apr 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Birds have been shaped by evolution in many ways that have made them distinct from their vertebrate cousins. Over millions of years of evolution, our feathered friends have taken to the skies, accompanied by unique changes to their skeleton, musculature, respiration, and even reproductive systems. Recent genomic analyses have identified another unique aspect of the avian lineage: streamlined genomes. Although bird genomes contain roughly the same number of protein-coding genes as other vertebrates, their genomes are smaller, containing less noncoding DNA. Scientists are still exploring the potential consequences of this genome reduction on bird biology. In a new article in Genome Biology and Evolution titled “Genome size reduction and transposon activity impact tRNA gene diversity while ensuring translational stability in birds,” Claudia Kutter and her colleagues reveal that, in addition to fewer protein-coding genes, bird genomes also contain surprisingly few tRNA genes, while nonetheless exhibiting the same tRNA usage patterns as other vertebrates (Ottenburghs et al. 2021). As tRNAs are a pivotal part of the cellular machinery that translates messenger RNA (mRNA) into protein, this suggests that birds have evolved to use their limited tRNA repertoire more efficiently.

Predicted Input of Uncultured Fungal Symbionts to a Lichen Symbiosis from Metagenome-Assembled Genomes

Tue, 09 Mar 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Basidiomycete yeasts have recently been reported as stably associated secondary fungal symbionts of many lichens, but their role in the symbiosis remains unknown. Attempts to sequence their genomes have been hampered both by the inability to culture them and their low abundance in the lichen thallus alongside two dominant eukaryotes (an ascomycete fungus and chlorophyte alga). Using the lichen Alectoria sarmentosa, we selectively dissolved the cortex layer in which secondary fungal symbionts are embedded to enrich yeast cell abundance and sequenced DNA from the resulting slurries as well as bulk lichen thallus. In addition to yielding a near-complete genome of the filamentous ascomycete using both methods, metagenomes from cortex slurries yielded a 36- to 84-fold increase in coverage and near-complete genomes for two basidiomycete species, members of the classes Cystobasidiomycetes and Tremellomycetes. The ascomycete possesses the largest gene repertoire of the three. It is enriched in proteases often associated with pathogenicity and harbors the majority of predicted secondary metabolite clusters. The basidiomycete genomes possess ∼35% fewer predicted genes than the ascomycete and have reduced secretomes even compared with close relatives, while exhibiting signs of nutrient limitation and scavenging. Furthermore, both basidiomycetes are enriched in genes coding for enzymes producing secreted acidic polysaccharides, representing a potential contribution to the shared extracellular matrix. All three fungi retain genes involved in dimorphic switching, despite the ascomycete not being known to possess a yeast stage. The basidiomycete genomes are an important new resource for exploration of lifestyle and function in fungal–fungal interactions in lichen symbioses.

Analysis of Paralogons, Origin of the Vertebrate Karyotype, and Ancient Chromosomes Retained in Extant Species

Thu, 04 Mar 2021 00:00:00 GMT

A manually curated set of ohnolog families has been assembled, for seven species of bony vertebrates, that includes 255 four-member families and 631 three-member families, encompassing over 2,900 ohnologs. Across species, the patterns of chromosomes upon which the ohnologs reside fall into 17 distinct categories. These 17 paralogons reflect the 17 ancestral chromosomes that existed in our chordate ancestor immediately prior to the two rounds of whole-genome duplication (2R-WGD) that occurred around 600 Ma. Within each paralogon, it has now been possible to assign those pairs of ohnologs that diverged from each other at the first round of duplication, through analysis of the molecular phylogeny of four-member families. Comparison with another recent analysis has identified four apparently incorrect assignments of pairings following 2R, along with several omissions, in that study. By comparison of the patterns between paralogons, it has also been possible to identify nine chromosomal fusions that occurred between 1R and 2R, and three chromosomal fusions that occurred after 2R, that generated an ancestral bony-vertebrate karyotype comprising 47 chromosomes. At least 27 of those ancestral bony-vertebrate chromosomes can, in some extant species, be shown not to have undergone any fusion or fission events. Such chromosomes are here termed “archeochromosomes,” and have each survived essentially unchanged in their content of genes for some 400 Myr. Their utility lies in their potential for tracking the various fusion and fission events that have occurred in different lineages throughout the expansion of bony vertebrates.

Genome Size Reduction and Transposon Activity Impact tRNA Gene Diversity While Ensuring Translational Stability in Birds

Wed, 03 Feb 2021 00:00:00 GMT

As a highly diverse vertebrate class, bird species have adapted to various ecological systems. How this phenotypic diversity can be explained genetically is intensively debated and is likely grounded in differences in the genome content. Larger and more complex genomes could allow for greater genetic regulation that results in more phenotypic variety. Surprisingly, avian genomes are much smaller compared to other vertebrates but contain as many protein-coding genes as other vertebrates. This supports the notion that the phenotypic diversity is largely determined by selection on non-coding gene sequences. Transfer RNAs (tRNAs) represent a group of non-coding genes. However, the characteristics of tRNA genes across bird genomes have remained largely unexplored. Here, we exhaustively investigated the evolution and functional consequences of these crucial translational regulators within bird species and across vertebrates. Our dense sampling of 55 avian genomes representing each bird order revealed an average of 169 tRNA genes with at least 31% being actively used. Unlike other vertebrates, avian tRNA genes are reduced in number and complexity but are still in line with vertebrate wobble pairing strategies and mutation-driven codon usage. Our detailed phylogenetic analyses further uncovered that new tRNA genes can emerge through multiplication by transposable elements. Together, this study provides the first comprehensive avian and cross-vertebrate tRNA gene analyses and demonstrates that tRNA gene evolution is flexible albeit constrained within functional boundaries of general mechanisms in protein translation.

First Complete Genome of the Thermophilic Polyhydroxyalkanoates-Producing Bacterium Schlegelella thermodepolymerans DSM 15344

Mon, 11 Jan 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Schlegelella thermodepolymerans is a moderately thermophilic bacterium capable of producing polyhydroxyalkanoates—biodegradable polymers representing an alternative to conventional plastics. Here, we present the first complete genome of the type strain S. thermodepolymerans DSM 15344 that was assembled by hybrid approach using both long (Oxford Nanopore) and short (Illumina) reads. The genome consists of a single 3,858,501-bp-long circular chromosome with GC content of 70.3%. Genome annotation identified 3,650 genes in total, whereas 3,598 open reading frames belonged to protein-coding genes. Functional annotation of the genome and division of genes into clusters of orthologous groups revealed a relatively high number of 1,013 genes with unknown function or unknown clusters of orthologous groups, which reflects the fact that only a little is known about thermophilic polyhydroxyalkanoates-producing bacteria on a genome level. On the other hand, 270 genes involved in energy conversion and production were detected. This group covers genes involved in catabolic processes, which suggests capability of S. thermodepolymerans DSM 15344 to utilize and biotechnologically convert various substrates such as lignocellulose-based saccharides, glycerol, or lipids. Based on the knowledge of its genome, it can be stated that S. thermodepolymerans DSM 15344 is a very interesting, metabolically versatile bacterium with great biotechnological potential.