The Masatoshi Nei Lecture

SMBE members attending the 1999 Business Meeting in Brisbane, Australia, voted to establish the Masatoshi Nei Lecture to be delivered by the President at annual Society meetings.

Masatoshi Nei (根井正利 Nei Masatoshi) is Evan Pugh Professor of Biology at Pennsylvania State University and Director of the Institute of Molecular Evolutionary Genetics since 1990. He was born in 1931 in Miyazaki Prefecture, on Kyūshū Island, Japan. He was associate professor and professor of biology at Brown University from 1969 to 1972 and professor of population genetics at the Center for Demographic and Population Genetics, University of Texas at Houston, from 1972 to 1990. He is a theoretical population geneticist and evolutionary biologist. Acting alone or working with his students, he has continuously developed new statistical theories of molecular evolution taking into account frontier knowledge of molecular biology. He has also made several conceptual developments of evolutionary theory.

Theoretical Studies

He was the first to show mathematically that in the presence of gene interaction, natural selection always tends to enhance the linkage intensity between genetic loci or maintain the same linkage relationship. He then observed that the average recombination value per genome is generally lower in higher organisms than in lower organisms and attributed this observation to his finding of linkage modification by natural selection. Recent molecular data indicate that many sets of interacting genes such as Hox genes, immunoglobulin genes, and histone genes often exist as gene clusters for a long evolutionary time. This observation can also be explained by his principle of maintenance of linkage of interacting genes. He also showed that, unlike R. A. Fisher’s argument, deleterious mutations can accumulate rather quickly on the Y chromosome or duplicate genes in finite populations. In 1969, considering the rates of amino acid substitution, gene duplication, and gene inactivation, he predicted that higher organisms contain a large number of duplicate genes and nonfunctional genes (now called pseudogenes). This prediction was ignored for many years but later vindicated when many multigene families and pseudogenes were discovered in the 1980s. His notable contribution in the early 1970s is the proposal of a new measure of genetic distance (Nei’s distance) between populations and its use for studying evolutionary relationships of populations or closely related species. Later, he developed another distance measure called DA, which is appropriate for finding the topology of a phylogenetic tree. He also developed statistics of measuring the extent of population differentiation for any types of mating system using GST measure. In 1975, he and collaborators presented a mathematical formulation of population bottleneck effects and clarified the genetic meaning of bottleneck effects. In 1979, he developed a mathematical theory for studying genetic variation in terms of restriction enzymes.[10] In collaboration with Takeo Maruyama and Chung-I Wu, he also developed a theory of evolution of reproductive isolation using various models of incompatibility of genes between two isolated populations.

Protein polymorphism and neutral theory

In the early 1960s and 1970s, there was a great controversy over the mechanism of protein evolution and the maintenance of protein polymorphism. Nei and his students developed various statistical methods for testing the neutral theory of evolution by using polymorphism data. Their analysis of the allele frequency distribution, the relationship between average heterozygosity and protein divergence between species, etc., could not reject the null hypothesis of neutral evolution though a large amount of data for various genes from diverse groups of species were examined. The only exception was the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) loci, which show an extraordinarily high degree of polymorphism. He also showed that pseudogenes may represent a paradigm of neutral evolution without any selection.

Human evolution

Using his genetic distance theory, he and A. K. Roychoudhury showed that the genetic variation between Europeans, Asians, and Africans is only about 11 percent of the total genetic variation of the human population, which was in agreement with the results published by R. C. Lewontin in the same year. Nei and Roychoudhury then estimated that Europeans and Asians diverged about 55,000 years ago and these two populations diverged from Africans about 115,000 years ago. This conclusion was supported by many later studies using larger numbers of genes and populations, and the estimates are still widely used. This study was a forerunner of the out of Africa theory of human origin by Allan Wilson.

Molecular phylogenetics

Around 1980, Nei and his students initiated a study of inference of phylogenetic trees based on distance data. In 1985 they developed a statistical method for testing the accuracy of a phylogenetic tree by examining the statistical significance of interior branch lengths. They then developed the neighbor-joining and minimum-evolution methods of tree inference. They also developed statistical methods for estimating evolutionary times from molecular phylogenies. In collaboration with Sudhir Kumar and Koichiro Tamura, he developed a widely used computer program package for phylogenetic analysis called MEGA.

MHC loci and positive Darwinian selection

Nei’s group invented a statistical method for detecting positive Darwinian selection by comparing the numbers of synonymous nucleotide substitutions and nonsynonymous nucleotide substitutions. Applying this method, they showed that the exceptionally high degree of sequence polymorphism at MHC loci is caused by overdominant selection.[19] Although various statistical methods for this test have been later developed, their original methods are still widely used. He maintains that the Bayesian method of inferring positively selected amino acid sites tends to give false-positives and experimental tests are necessary for confirmation of these sites.

Birth-and-death evolution and neomutationism

Nei and his students studied the evolutionary patterns of a large number of multigene families and showed that they generally evolve following the model of a birth-and-death process.In some gene families this process is very fast and caused by random events of gene duplication and gene deletion and generates genomic drift of gene copy number. Nei has long maintained the view that the driving force of evolution is mutation including any types of genetic changes and natural selection is merely a force eliminating less fit genotypes (neomutationism). He conducted statistical analyses of the evolution of genes controlling phenotypic characters such as olfactory reception and obtained evidence supporting his neomutationism.

New journal, new society, and students

He founded the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution in 1983 and the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution in 1993, together with Walter M. Fitch. He also trained many graduate students and postdoctorals who have become leading figures in molecular evolution including Margaret Kidwell, Wen-Hsiung Li, Ranajit Chakraborty, Shozo Yokoyama, Aravinda Chakravarti, Dan Graur, Fumio Tajima, Chung-I Wu, Naoyuki Takahata, Takashi Gojobori, Pekka Pamilo, Austin Hughes, Andrey Rzhetsky, Jianzhi (George) Zhang, and Sudhir Kumar.

Recognition

Year Title
1977 Japan Society of Human Genetics Award
1990 Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1990 Kihara Prize, Genetics Society of Japan
1997 Member, National Academy of Sciences, USA
2002 International Prize for Biology, Japan Society of the Promotion of Sciences
2003 Barbara Bowman Award, Texas Geneticist Society
2006 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal, Genetics Society of America

@OfficialSMBE Feed

MBE | Most Read

Molecular Biology and Evolution

2017-08-03

2017-08-03

2017-08-03

Did Medieval Religious Rules Drive Domestic Chicken Evolution?

2017-08-03

2017-08-03

2017-05-19

2017-05-15

2017-05-08

2017-05-04

2017-05-02

TSHR and BCDO2, both hypothesised to have undergone strong and recent selection in domestic chickens. The derived variant in TSHR, associated with reduced aggression to conspecifics and faster onset of egg laying, shows strong selection beginning around 1,100 years ago, coincident with archaeological evidence for intensified chicken production and documented changes in egg and chicken consumption. To our knowledge, this is the first example of preindustrial domesticate trait selection in response to a historically attested cultural shift in food preference. For BCDO2, we find support for selection, but demonstrate that the recent rise in allele frequency could also have been driven by gene flow from imported Asian chickens during more recent breed formations. Our findings highlight that traits found ubiquitously in modern domestic species may not necessarily have originated during the early stages of domestication. In addition, our results demonstrate the importance of precise estimation of allele frequency trajectories through time for understanding the drivers of selection.

2017-04-29

2017-04-29

BLAST and InterProScan. Orthology filters applied to BLAST results reduced the rate of false positive assignments by 11%, and increased the ratio of experimentally validated terms recovered over all terms assigned per protein by 15%. Compared with InterProScan, eggNOG-mapper achieved similar proteome coverage and precision while predicting, on average, 41 more terms per protein and increasing the rate of experimentally validated terms recovered over total term assignments per protein by 35%. EggNOG-mapper predictions scored within the top-5 methods in the three GO categories using the CAFA2 NK-partial benchmark. Finally, we evaluated eggNOG-mapper for functional annotation of metagenomics data, yielding better performance than interProScan. eggNOG-mapper runs ∼15× faster than BLAST and at least 2.5× faster than InterProScan. The tool is available standalone and as an online service at http://eggnog-mapper.embl.de.">http://eggnog-mapper.embl.de">http://eggnog-mapper.embl.de.

2017-04-28

2017-04-28

2017-04-27

2017-04-27

2017-04-21

2017-04-21

the frequency of the derived allele, rs117799927 G, was extremely low among worldwide populations (0.005) but exceptionally high in Mongolians (0.247). Approximate Bayesian computation-based age estimation showed that the rs117799927 G allele emerged or positive selection began to operate 50 generations before the present, near the age of the climate anomaly named Late Antique Little Ice Age. Furthermore, rs117799927 showed significant associations with multiple adiposity-related traits in Mongolians and allelic difference in enhancer activity in cells of adipocyte lineage, suggesting that positive selection at 3p12.1 might be related to adaptation in the energy metabolism system. These findings provide novel evidence for a very recent positive-selection event in Homo sapiens and offer insights into the roles of genes in 3p12.1 in the adaptive evolution of our species.

2017-04-21

Could Mitochondria “Bend” Nuclear Regulation?

2017-04-21

2017-04-19

2017-04-18

2017-04-18

2017-04-14

2017-04-14

2017-04-12

2017-04-08

site specific editing, which frequently leads to recoding, and clustered editing, which is usually found in transcribed genomic repeats. Here, for the first time, we looked for both editing of isolated sites and clustered, non-specific sites in a basal metazoan, the coral Acropora millepora during spawning event, in order to reveal its editing pattern. We found that the coral editome resembles the mammalian one: it contains more than 500,000 sites, virtually all of which are clustered in non-coding regions that are enriched for predicted dsRNA structures. RNA editing levels were increased during spawning and increased further still in newly released gametes. This may suggest that editing plays a role in introducing variability in coral gametes.

2017-04-08

2017-04-04

GBE | Most Read

Genome Biology & Evolution

Whole-Genome Sequence of the Anaerobic Isosaccharinic Acid Degrading Isolate, Macellibacteroides fermentans Strain HH-ZS

2017-08-16

Abstract
The ability of micro-organisms to degrade isosaccharinic acids (ISAs) while tolerating hyperalkaline conditions is pivotal to our understanding of the biogeochemistry associated within these environs, but also in scenarios pertaining to the cementitious disposal of radioactive wastes. An alkalitolerant, ISA degrading micro-organism was isolated from the hyperalkaline soils resulting from lime depositions. Here, we report the first whole-genome sequence, ISA degradation profile and carbohydrate preoteome of a Macellibacteroides fermentans strain HH-ZS, 4.08 Mb in size, coding 3,241 proteins, 64 tRNA, and 1 rRNA.

Ultraconserved Sequences Associated with HoxD Cluster Have Strong Repression Activity

2017-08-14

Abstract
Increase in the complexity of organisms during evolution strongly correlates with the increase in the noncoding DNA content of their genomes. Although a gradual increase in the proportion of repetitive DNA elements along with increasing complexity is known, most of the noncoding components of the genome remain uncharacterized. A nonrepetitive but highly conserved noncoding component of the genome in vertebrates, called ultraconserved DNA sequences, constitutes up to 5% of the human genome. The function of most of the ultraconserved DNA elements is not well known. One such ultraconserved stretch of DNA has been identified upstream of the HoxD cluster in vertebrates. We analyzed the function of these elements in different cell lines and zebrafish. Our results suggest that these ultraconserved sequences work as repressor elements. This is the first report which reveals the repressor function of ultraconserved sequences and implicates their role in the regulation of developmental genes.

Phylogenomic Resolution of the Phylogeny of Laurasiatherian Mammals: Exploring Phylogenetic Signals within Coding and Noncoding Sequences

2017-08-02

Abstract
The interordinal relationships of Laurasiatherian mammals are currently one of the most controversial questions in mammalian phylogenetics. Previous studies mainly relied on coding sequences (CDS) and seldom used noncoding sequences. Here, by data mining public genome data, we compiled an intron data set of 3,638 genes (all introns from a protein-coding gene are considered as a gene) (19,055,073 bp) and a CDS data set of 10,259 genes (20,994,285 bp), covering all major lineages of Laurasiatheria (except Pholidota). We found that the intron data contained stronger and more congruent phylogenetic signals than the CDS data. In agreement with this observation, concatenation and species-tree analyses of the intron data set yielded well-resolved and identical phylogenies, whereas the CDS data set produced weakly supported and incongruent results. Further analyses showed that the phylogeny inferred from the intron data is highly robust to data subsampling and change in outgroup, but the CDS data produced unstable results under the same conditions. Interestingly, gene tree statistical results showed that the most frequently observed gene tree topologies for the CDS and intron data are identical, suggesting that the major phylogenetic signal within the CDS data is actually congruent with that within the intron data. Our final result of Laurasiatheria phylogeny is (Eulipotyphla,((Chiroptera, Perissodactyla),(Carnivora, Cetartiodactyla))), favoring a close relationship between Chiroptera and Perissodactyla. Our study 1) provides a well-supported phylogenetic framework for Laurasiatheria, representing a step towards ending the long-standing “hard” polytomy and 2) argues that intron within genome data is a promising data resource for resolving rapid radiation events across the tree of life.

The Evolutionary Dynamics of the Odorant Receptor Gene Family in Corbiculate Bees

2017-08-02

Abstract
Insects rely on chemical information to locate food, choose mates, and detect potential predators. It has been hypothesized that adaptive changes in the olfactory system facilitated the diversification of numerous insect lineages. For instance, evolutionary changes of Odorant Receptor (OR) genes often occur in parallel with modifications in life history strategies. Corbiculate bees display a diverse array of behaviors that are controlled through olfaction, including varying degrees of social organization, and manifold associations with floral resources. Here we investigated the molecular mechanisms driving the evolution of the OR gene family in corbiculate bees in comparison to other chemosensory gene families. Our results indicate that the genomic organization of the OR gene family has remained highly conserved for ∼80 Myr, despite exhibiting major changes in repertoire size among bee lineages. Moreover, the evolution of OR genes appears to be driven mostly by lineage-specific gene duplications in few genomic regions that harbor large numbers of OR genes. A selection analysis revealed that OR genes evolve under positive selection, with the strongest signals detected in recently duplicated copies. Our results indicate that chromosomal translocations had a minimal impact on OR evolution, and instead local molecular mechanisms appear to be main drivers of OR repertoire size. Our results provide empirical support to the longstanding hypothesis that positive selection shaped the diversification of the OR gene family. Together, our results shed new light on the molecular mechanisms underlying the evolution of olfaction in insects.

Discerning the Origins of the Negritos, First Sundaland People: Deep Divergence and Archaic Admixture

2017-07-11

Abstract
Human presence in Southeast Asia dates back to at least 40,000 years ago, when the current islands formed a continental shelf called Sundaland. In the Philippine Islands, Peninsular Malaysia, and Andaman Islands, there exist indigenous groups collectively called Negritos whose ancestry can be traced to the “First Sundaland People.” To understand the relationship between these Negrito groups and their demographic histories, we generated genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism data in the Philippine Negritos and compared them with existing data from other populations. Phylogenetic tree analyses show that Negritos are basal to other East and Southeast Asians, and that they diverged from West Eurasians at least 38,000 years ago. We also found relatively high traces of Denisovan admixture in the Philippine Negritos, but not in the Malaysian and Andamanese groups, suggesting independent introgression and/or parallel losses involving Denisovan introgressed regions. Shared genetic loci between all three Negrito groups could be related to skin pigmentation, height, facial morphology and malarial resistance. These results show the unique status of Negrito groups as descended from the First Sundaland People.

Silencing Effect of Hominoid Highly Conserved Noncoding Sequences on Embryonic Brain Development

2017-06-19

Abstract
Superfamily Hominoidea, which consists of Hominidae (humans and great apes) and Hylobatidae (gibbons), is well-known for sharing human-like characteristics, however, the genomic origins of these shared unique phenotypes have mainly remained elusive. To decipher the underlying genomic basis of Hominoidea-restricted phenotypes, we identified and characterized Hominoidea-restricted highly conserved noncoding sequences (HCNSs) that are a class of potential regulatory elements which may be involved in evolution of lineage-specific phenotypes. We discovered 679 such HCNSs from human, chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan and gibbon genomes. These HCNSs were demonstrated to be under purifying selection but with lineage-restricted characteristics different from old CNSs. A significant proportion of their ancestral sequences had accelerated rates of nucleotide substitutions, insertions and deletions during the evolution of common ancestor of Hominoidea, suggesting the intervention of positive Darwinian selection for creating those HCNSs. In contrary to enhancer elements and similar to silencer sequences, these Hominoidea-restricted HCNSs are located in close proximity of transcription start sites. Their target genes are enriched in the nervous system, development and transcription, and they tend to be remotely located from the nearest coding gene. Chip-seq signals and gene expression patterns suggest that Hominoidea-restricted HCNSs are likely to be functional regulatory elements by imposing silencing effects on their target genes in a tissue-restricted manner during fetal brain development. These HCNSs, emerged through adaptive evolution and conserved through purifying selection, represent a set of promising targets for future functional studies of the evolution of Hominoidea-restricted phenotypes.

Genome-Wide SNP Analysis Reveals Distinct Origins of Trypanosoma evansi and Trypanosoma equiperdum

2017-05-25

Abstract
Trypanosomes cause a variety of diseases in man and domestic animals in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. In the Trypanozoon subgenus, Trypanosoma brucei gambiense and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense cause human African trypanosomiasis, whereas Trypanosoma brucei brucei, Trypanosoma evansi, and Trypanosoma equiperdum are responsible for nagana, surra, and dourine in domestic animals, respectively. The genetic relationships between T. evansi and T. equiperdum and other Trypanozoon species remain unclear because the majority of phylogenetic analyses has been based on only a few genes. In this study, we have conducted a phylogenetic analysis based on genome-wide SNP analysis comprising 56 genomes from the Trypanozoon subgenus. Our data reveal that T. equiperdum has emerged at least once in Eastern Africa and T. evansi at two independent occasions in Western Africa. The genomes within the T. equiperdum and T. evansi monophyletic clusters show extremely little variation, probably due to the clonal spread linked to the independence from tsetse flies for their transmission.