Featured News

In Memoriam - SMBE mourns the passing of Dr. Richard Charles "Dick" Lewontin

Dear SMBE Members,

On the morning of July 4, 2021, population geneticist Richard “Dick” Lewontin passed away at the age of 92, just three days after his high-school sweetheart and wife of 73 years, Mary Jane. Both had been in poor health. Lewontin was an emeritus Professor in the Department of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology and Curator in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

Lewontin has left an indelible imprint on the field of evolutionary biology through his research, writing, and mentorship.

After finishing his undergraduate degree at Harvard, Lewontin trained under the supervision of the famous Drosophila geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky at Columbia. Dobzhansky was often away collecting flies, which provided Lewontin freedom and independence. But, when Dobzhansky was back in the lab, they purportedly argued intensely about population genetics, an activity both parties enjoyed immensely.

Fresh after earning his PhD from Columbia, he moved to North Carolina State University, where he remained for just 4 years (1954-1958) before moving, first to the University of Rochester, and then to the University of Chicago. In his early work, Lewontin was known for bringing a mathematical modeling approach to the field of genetics. While most population genetics was focused on a single gene, his early work with Ken-Ichi Kojima essentially founded two-locus theory and introduced the term “linkage disequilibrium” to describe the statistical association between the variation at each of a pair of genes. This work laid the foundation for now commonly used, association-mapping approaches.

However, the primary reason Lewontin moved to Chicago was because he recognized the exciting work of biochemist Jack Hubby, a new faculty member, who was pioneering the method of gel electrophoresis. As Lewontin put it: Hubby had a method but no question, and he had a question but no method. Together, they published two ground-breaking papers in Genetics: Hubby & Lewontin (1966) and Lewontin & Hubby (1966). The first focused on the method by which one could assay genetic variation via gel electrophoresis, and the second applied this method to assess genetic variation in a population of Drosophila pseudoobscura. Lewontin complained – even decades later – how the latter paper was more highly cited, and Hubby wasn’t adequately recognized for his contributions. Nonetheless, together, these papers laid the foundation for the field of molecular evolution, by (1) demonstrating the surprisingly high amount of genetic variation (heterozygosity) in natural populations and (2) setting the stage for the still ongoing debate about how much of this variation was due to natural selection and how much was due to chance. See Charlesworth et al. (2016) for more detail. As a direct consequence of these studies, Motoo Kimura and his colleagues developed the neutral theory, which tries to explain in quantitative terms the observed pattern of genetic variation expected in the absence of any form of natural selection. Thus, effectively, these papers set the agenda, for both empirical and theoretical population genetics, for the ensuing decades and to the current era of population genomics.

In 1973, Lewontin was lured to Harvard University and the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) to serve as a “Curator of Population Genetics”, a new position designed for him. He was offered the entire third floor of the MCZ, which he had renovated to his specifications. Most notably, in the center was an expansive meeting room (including a large table brought all the way from the University of Chicago), designed to bring together students, postdocs and a long line of visiting natural and social scientists as well as philosophers, providing them an open space to freely discuss science and exchange ideas. Visitors were greeted by an enormous, mounted moose head that his early lab members were rumored to have “borrowed” from the MCZ Mammal Department.

This year also marked the publication of the landmark paper by Lewontin and Krakauer that suggested the use of the variation in the Fst statistic across loci to detect selection - an approach that presages much of the current population-genomic tests of selection. A year later, the publication of his book The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change solidified Lewontin’s position as a leader in the field. While the parts of the book that focused on molecular methods quickly became outdated, the book is one of the clearest expositions of the battle between selectionists and neutralists. The first chapter of the book outlined a path forward for the field, emphasizing the role of population genetics in helping to link genotype to phenotype to fitness, inspiring a generation of scientists (including both of us).

The scientific environment that Lewontin was able to create in the MCZ attracted many talented trainees and visitors. One of these was Marty Kreitman, a postdoctoral researcher, who extended the protein electrophoresis survey to DNA sequencing. In 1983, he published in Nature the first survey of DNA sequence variation in the recently cloned gene Adh in D. melanogaster, the paper that in many ways started the field of molecular population genetics at the DNA sequence level. Lewontin refused to put his name on the paper, claiming he only contributed ideas. This was Lewontin’s modus operandi – his students frequently published papers without his name.

In addition to his work in Drosophila, Lewontin also made profound contributions to the field of human genetics throughout his career. On a work trip, Lewontin – armed with a pad of paper, hand calculator, table of logarithms and several books on human genetics – recorded, compared and summarized data on human variability. From these data, Lewontin’s early calculations suggested that upwards of 90% of genetic variation in all humans is also segregating within geographically distinct human populations. This observation allowed Lewontin to effectively argue that the notion of race had little evidence in human genetic differentiation. He also made important critiques of the frequently made inference that genetic differences were the cause of variation between populations or social groups in phenotypes, such as IQ. These criticisms resonate today in the era of genome-wide association studies and political racism  

Lewontin’s impact extended substantially beyond population genetics into many areas of science. One of his most famous papers, written together with Harvard colleague Stephen Jay Gould, “The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm: a critique of the adaptationist programme”, provided a blistering critique of uncritical adaptationist thinking in biology and established the need for rigorous and quantitative approaches for understanding biology that include a large variety of possible causal explanations. The quantitative and statistical thinking in biology that is so important and so ubiquitous today owes a great deal to this work.

Part of Lewontin’s criticism of “just so story-telling” in biology was focused specifically on the application of evolutionary biology in social sciences. Most famously, Lewontin made a withering denunciation of evolutionary psychology, in general, and the book Sociobiology by EO Wilson, another Harvard colleague (and the person who recruited Lewontin to Harvard), specifically. Lewontin argued strongly, most prominently in his book with Richard Levins The Dialectical Biologist, that scientific inquiry is always placed in a social and political context, and it is important not to turn the gaze away from this reality. 

While Lewontin is best known as a biologist, he left a strong imprint on the field of Philosophy of Science and as a public intellectual particularly through his popular books and many deeply insightful and brilliantly argued articles in The New York Review of Books.

In 2015 Lewontin was awarded the Crafoord prize and in 2017 the Genetics Society of America’s highest honor, the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal. As a testament to this legacy, his nomination for the Morgan Medal was co-signed by 160 faculty members from around the world.

Lewontin’s scientific and intellectual legacy is more than the work he did, it was the environment he created, the students he trained and a lasting intellectual contribution to society. His contribution is also ethical in his insistence for the need for people to have intellectual freedom and to fully enjoy the fruits of their own labor.

He was deeply loved and revered by those close to him.

He will be deeply missed and not soon forgotten.

Authors:  Dmitri Petrov (Lewontin PhD student) and Hopi Hoekstra (Lewontin faculty colleague)


Charlesworth B, Charlesworth D, Coyne, JA and CH Langley.  2016. Hubby and Lewontin on protein variation in natural populations: When molecular genetics came to the rescue of population genetics. Genetics 203(4): 1497–1503.

Gould SJ and RC Lewotin. 1979. The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm: a critique of the adaptationist programme. Proc Roy Soc B.  205(1161): 581-598

Hubby JL and RC Lewontin. 1966. A molecular approach to the study of genic heterozygosity in natural populations. I. The number of alleles at different loci in Drosophila pseudoobscura. Genetics 54(2):577–594.

Kimura, M. 1968. Evolutionary rate at the molecular level. Nature 217: 624-626.

Kreitman, M. 1983. Nucleotide polymorphism at the alcohol dehydrogenase locus of Drosophila melanogaster. Nature 304:412–417.

Levins R and RC Lewontin. 1987. The Dialectical Biologist. Harvard University Press. p. 336.

Lewontin RC. 1974. The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change. Columbia University Press. p. 346.

Lewontin RC. 1972. The apportionment of human diversity. In Evolutionary Biology Vol. 6 (Ed. TB Dobzhansky, MK Hecht, WC Steere). Springer, New York. p. 381-398.

Lewontin RC. 1974. Annotation: the analysis of variance and the analysis of causes. Amer J Human Genet. 26(3):400–411.

Lewontin RC and JL Hubby. 1966. A molecular approach to the study of genic heterozygosity in natural populations. II. Amount of variation and degree of heterozygosity in natural populations of Drosophila pseudoobscura. Genetics 54(2):595–609.

Lewontin RC and K Kojima. 1960. The evolutionary dynamics of complex polymorphisms. Evolution 14(4):458-472.

Lewontin RC and J Krakauer. 1973. Distribution of gene frequency as a test of the theory of selective neutrality of polymorphisms. Genetics 74(1):175-195.

Sent on behalf of SMBE President, Dr. Harmit Malik

  • Friday, July 09, 2021
  • Comments (0)

Please login or register to post comments.


Forgot username/password?

Registration and Membership

Non-Members: You must Register for an account to purchase a membership and conduct other transactions. Future visits to the website will only require login.

After login or registration: You may conduct online transactions such as joining or renewing a membership, registering for an annual meeting and making donations.


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


SMBE is a member of the Scientific Society Publisher Alliance

@OfficialSMBE Feed

MBE | Most Read

Molecular Biology and Evolution

Corrigendum to: ASTRAL-Pro: Quartet-Based Species-Tree Inference despite Paralogy

Sat, 21 Aug 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Molecular Biology and Evolution, Volume 37, Issue 11, November 2020, Pages 3292–3307, https://doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msaa139

Corrigendum to: Detecting Genetic Ancestry and Adaptation in the Taiwanese Han People

Sat, 21 Aug 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Molecular Biology and Evolution, msaa276, https://doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msaa276

Erratum to: Dietary Diversification and Specialization in Neotropical Bats Facilitated by Early Molecular Evolution

Wed, 18 Aug 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Molecular Biology and Evolution, msab028, https://doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msab028

Erratum to: Role of Sex-Concordant Gene Expression in the Coevolution of Exaggerated Male and Female Genitalia in a Beetle Group

Mon, 02 Aug 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Molecular Biology and Evolution, msab122, https://doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msab122

BUSCO Update: Novel and Streamlined Workflows along with Broader and Deeper Phylogenetic Coverage for Scoring of Eukaryotic, Prokaryotic, and Viral Genomes

Wed, 28 Jul 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Methods for evaluating the quality of genomic and metagenomic data are essential to aid genome assembly procedures and to correctly interpret the results of subsequent analyses. BUSCO estimates the completeness and redundancy of processed genomic data based on universal single-copy orthologs. Here, we present new functionalities and major improvements of the BUSCO software, as well as the renewal and expansion of the underlying data sets in sync with the OrthoDB v10 release. Among the major novelties, BUSCO now enables phylogenetic placement of the input sequence to automatically select the most appropriate BUSCO data set for the assessment, allowing the analysis of metagenome-assembled genomes of unknown origin. A newly introduced genome workflow increases the efficiency and runtimes especially on large eukaryotic genomes. BUSCO is the only tool capable of assessing both eukaryotic and prokaryotic species, and can be applied to various data types, from genome assemblies and metagenomic bins, to transcriptomes and gene sets.

Genomic Signatures Supporting the Symbiosis and Formation of Chitinous Tube in the Deep-Sea Tubeworm Paraescarpia echinospica

Tue, 13 Jul 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Vestimentiferan tubeworms are iconic animals that present as large habitat-forming chitinized tube bushes in deep-sea chemosynthetic ecosystems. They are gutless and depend entirely on their endosymbiotic sulfide-oxidizing chemoautotrophic bacteria for nutrition. Information on the genomes of several siboglinid endosymbionts has improved our understanding of their nutritional supplies. However, the interactions between tubeworms and their endosymbionts remain largely unclear due to a paucity of host genomes. Here, we report the chromosome-level genome of the vestimentiferan tubeworm Paraescarpia echinospica. We found that the genome has been remodeled to facilitate symbiosis through the expansion of gene families related to substrate transfer and innate immunity, suppression of apoptosis, regulation of lysosomal digestion, and protection against oxidative stress. Furthermore, the genome encodes a programmed cell death pathway that potentially controls the endosymbiont population. Our integrated genomic, transcriptomic, and proteomic analyses uncovered matrix proteins required for the formation of the chitinous tube and revealed gene family expansion and co-option as evolutionary mechanisms driving the acquisition of this unique supporting structure for deep-sea tubeworms. Overall, our study provides novel insights into the host’s support system that has enabled tubeworms to establish symbiosis, thrive in deep-sea hot vents and cold seeps, and produce the unique chitinous tubes in the deep sea.

Molecular Evolutionary Dynamics of Energy Limited Microorganisms

Tue, 13 Jul 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Microorganisms have the unique ability to survive extended periods of time in environments with extremely low levels of exploitable energy. To determine the extent that energy limitation affects microbial evolution, we examined the molecular evolutionary dynamics of a phylogenetically diverse set of taxa over the course of 1,000 days. We found that periodic exposure to energy limitation affected the rate of molecular evolution, the accumulation of genetic diversity, and the rate of extinction. We then determined the degree that energy limitation affected the spectrum of mutations as well as the direction of evolution at the gene level. Our results suggest that the initial depletion of energy altered the direction and rate of molecular evolution within each taxon, though after the initial depletion the rate and direction did not substantially change. However, this consistent pattern became diminished when comparisons were performed across phylogenetically distant taxa, suggesting that although the dynamics of molecular evolution under energy limitation are highly generalizable across the microbial tree of life, the targets of adaptation are specific to a given taxon.

Local Adaptation of Bitter Taste and Ecological Speciation in a Wild Mammal

Wed, 07 Jul 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Sensory systems are attractive evolutionary models to address how organisms adapt to local environments that can cause ecological speciation. However, tests of these evolutionary models have focused on visual, auditory, and olfactory senses. Here, we show local adaptation of bitter taste receptor genes in two neighboring populations of a wild mammal—the blind mole rat Spalax galili—that show ecological speciation in divergent soil environments. We found that basalt-type bitter receptors showed higher response intensity and sensitivity compared with chalk-type ones using both genetic and cell-based functional analyses. Such functional changes could help animals adapted to basalt soil select plants with less bitterness from diverse local foods, whereas a weaker reception to bitter taste may allow consumption of a greater range of plants for animals inhabiting chalk soil with a scarcity of food supply. Our study shows divergent selection on food resources through local adaptation of bitter receptors, and suggests that taste plays an important yet underappreciated role in speciation.

Molecular Clocks and Archeogenomics of a Late Period Egyptian Date Palm Leaf Reveal Introgression from Wild Relatives and Add Timestamps on the Domestication

Wed, 30 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The date palm, Phoenix dactylifera, has been a cornerstone of Middle Eastern and North African agriculture for millennia. It was first domesticated in the Persian Gulf, and its evolution appears to have been influenced by gene flow from two wild relatives, P. theophrasti, currently restricted to Crete and Turkey, and P. sylvestris, widespread from Bangladesh to the West Himalayas. Genomes of ancient date palm seeds show that gene flow from P. theophrasti to P. dactylifera may have occurred by ∼2,200 years ago, but traces of P. sylvestris could not be detected. We here integrate archeogenomics of a ∼2,100-year-old P. dactylifera leaf from Saqqara (Egypt), molecular-clock dating, and coalescence approaches with population genomic tests, to probe the hybridization between the date palm and its two closest relatives and provide minimum and maximum timestamps for its reticulated evolution. The Saqqara date palm shares a close genetic affinity with North African date palm populations, and we find clear genomic admixture from both P. theophrasti, and P. sylvestris, indicating that both had contributed to the date palm genome by 2,100 years ago. Molecular-clocks placed the divergence of P. theophrasti from P. dactylifera/P. sylvestris and that of P. dactylifera from P. sylvestris in the Upper Miocene, but strongly supported, conflicting topologies point to older gene flow between P. theophrasti and P. dactylifera, and P. sylvestris and P. dactylifera. Our work highlights the ancient hybrid origin of the date palms, and prompts the investigation of the functional significance of genetic material introgressed from both close relatives, which in turn could prove useful for modern date palm breeding.

Inferring Long-Term Effective Population Size with Mutation–Selection Models

Wed, 30 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Mutation–selection phylogenetic codon models are grounded on population genetics first principles and represent a principled approach for investigating the intricate interplay between mutation, selection, and drift. In their current form, mutation–selection codon models are entirely characterized by the collection of site-specific amino-acid fitness profiles. However, thus far, they have relied on the assumption of a constant genetic drift, translating into a unique effective population size (Ne) across the phylogeny, clearly an unrealistic assumption. This assumption can be alleviated by introducing variation in Ne between lineages. In addition to Ne, the mutation rate (μ) is susceptible to vary between lineages, and both should covary with life-history traits (LHTs). This suggests that the model should more globally account for the joint evolutionary process followed by all of these lineage-specific variables (Ne, μ, and LHTs). In this direction, we introduce an extended mutation–selection model jointly reconstructing in a Bayesian Monte Carlo framework the fitness landscape across sites and long-term trends in Ne, μ, and LHTs along the phylogeny, from an alignment of DNA coding sequences and a matrix of observed LHTs in extant species. The model was tested against simulated data and applied to empirical data in mammals, isopods, and primates. The reconstructed history of Ne in these groups appears to correlate with LHTs or ecological variables in a way that suggests that the reconstruction is reasonable, at least in its global trends. On the other hand, the range of variation in Ne inferred across species is surprisingly narrow. This last point suggests that some of the assumptions of the model, in particular concerning the assumed absence of epistatic interactions between sites, are potentially problematic.

Functional Characterization of the Cnidarian Antiviral Immune Response Reveals Ancestral Complexity

Mon, 28 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Animals evolved a broad repertoire of innate immune sensors and downstream effector cascades for defense against RNA viruses. Yet, this system varies greatly among different bilaterian animals, masking its ancestral state. In this study, we aimed to characterize the antiviral immune response of the cnidarian Nematostella vectensis and decipher the function of the retinoic acid-inducible gene I (RIG-I)-like receptors (RLRs) known to detect viral double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) in bilaterians but activate different antiviral pathways in vertebrates and nematodes. We show that polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid (poly(I:C)), a mimic of long viral dsRNA and a primary ligand for the vertebrate RLR melanoma differentiation-associated protein 5 (MDA5), triggers a complex antiviral immune response bearing features distinctive for both vertebrate and invertebrate systems. Importantly, a well-characterized agonist of the vertebrate RIG-I receptor does not induce a significant transcriptomic response that bears signature of the antiviral immune response, which experimentally supports the results of a phylogenetic analysis indicating clustering of the two N. vectensis RLR paralogs (NveRLRa and NveRLRb) with MDA5. Furthermore, the results of affinity assays reveal that NveRLRb binds poly(I:C) and long dsRNA and its knockdown impairs the expression of putative downstream effector genes including RNA interference components. Our study provides for the first time the functional evidence for the conserved role of RLRs in initiating immune response to dsRNA that originated before the cnidarian–bilaterian split and lay a strong foundation for future research on the evolution of the immune responses to RNA viruses.

Dissecting the Fitness Costs of Complex Mutations

Sun, 27 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The fitness cost of complex pleiotropic mutations is generally difficult to assess. On the one hand, it is necessary to identify which molecular properties are directly altered by the mutation. On the other, this alteration modifies the activity of many genetic targets with uncertain consequences. Here, we examine the possibility of addressing these challenges by identifying unique predictors of these costs. To this aim, we consider mutations in the RNA polymerase (RNAP) in Escherichia coli as a model of complex mutations. Changes in RNAP modify the global program of transcriptional regulation, with many consequences. Among others is the difficulty to decouple the direct effect of the mutation from the response of the whole system to such mutation. A problem that we solve quantitatively with data of a set of constitutive genes, those on which the global program acts most directly. We provide a statistical framework that incorporates the direct effects and other molecular variables linked to this program as predictors, which leads to the identification that some genes are more suitable to determine costs than others. Therefore, we not only identified which molecular properties best anticipate fitness, but we also present the paradoxical result that, despite pleiotropy, specific genes serve as more solid predictors. These results have connotations for the understanding of the architecture of robustness in biological systems.

Identification of a Novel Class of Photolyases as Possible Ancestors of Their Family

Sun, 27 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

UV irradiation induces the formation of cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPDs) and 6-4 photoproducts in DNA. These two types of lesions can be directly photorepaired by CPD photolyases and 6-4 photolyases, respectively. Recently, a new class of 6-4 photolyases named iron–sulfur bacterial cryptochromes and photolyases (FeS-BCPs) were found, which were considered as the ancestors of all photolyases and their homologs—cryptochromes. However, a controversy exists regarding 6-4 photoproducts only constituting ∼10–30% of the total UV-induced lesions that primordial organisms would hardly survive without a CPD repair enzyme. By extensive phylogenetic analyses, we identified a novel class of proteins, all from eubacteria. They have relatively high similarity to class I/III CPD photolyases, especially in the putative substrate-binding and FAD-binding regions. However, these proteins are shorter, and they lack the “N-terminal α/β domain” of normal photolyases. Therefore, we named them short photolyase-like. Nevertheless, similar to FeS-BCPs, some of short photolyase-likes also contain four conserved cysteines, which may also coordinate an iron–sulfur cluster as FeS-BCPs. A member from Rhodococcus fascians was cloned and expressed. It was demonstrated that the protein contains a FAD cofactor and an iron–sulfur cluster, and has CPD repair activity. It was speculated that this novel class of photolyases may be the real ancestors of the cryptochrome/photolyase family.

The Antibiotic Efflux Protein TolC Is a Highly Evolvable Target under Colicin E1 or TLS Phage Selection

Sun, 27 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Bacteriophages and bacterial toxins are promising antibacterial agents to treat infections caused by multidrug-resistant (MDR) bacteria. In fact, bacteriophages have recently been successfully used to treat life-threatening infections caused by MDR bacteria (Schooley RT, Biswas B, Gill JJ, Hernandez-Morales A, Lancaster J, Lessor L, Barr JJ, Reed SL, Rohwer F, Benler S, et al. 2017. Development and use of personalized bacteriophage-based therapeutic cocktails to treat a patient with a disseminated resistant Acinetobacter baumannii infection. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 61(10); Chan BK, Turner PE, Kim S, Mojibian HR, Elefteriades JA, Narayan D. 2018. Phage treatment of an aortic graft infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Evol Med Public Health. 2018(1):60–66; Petrovic Fabijan A, Lin RCY, Ho J, Maddocks S, Ben Zakour NL, Iredell JR, Westmead Bacteriophage Therapy Team. 2020. Safety of bacteriophage therapy in severe Staphylococcus aureus infection. Nat Microbiol. 5(3):465–472). One potential problem with using these antibacterial agents is the evolution of resistance against them in the long term. Here, we studied the fitness landscape of the Escherichia coli TolC protein, an outer membrane efflux protein that is exploited by a pore forming toxin called colicin E1 and by TLS phage (Pagie L, Hogeweg P. 1999. Colicin diversity: a result of eco-evolutionary dynamics. J Theor Biol. 196(2):251–261; Andersen C, Hughes C, Koronakis V. 2000. Chunnel vision. Export and efflux through bacterial channel-tunnels. EMBO Rep. 1(4):313–318; Koronakis V, Andersen C, Hughes C. 2001. Channel-tunnels. Curr Opin Struct Biol. 11(4):403–407; Czaran TL, Hoekstra RF, Pagie L. 2002. Chemical warfare between microbes promotes biodiversity. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 99(2):786–790; Cascales E, Buchanan SK, Duché D, Kleanthous C, Lloubès R, Postle K, Riley M, Slatin S, Cavard D. 2007. Colicin biology. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 71(1):158–229). By systematically assessing the distribution of fitness effects of ∼9,000 single amino acid replacements in TolC using either positive (antibiotics and bile salts) or negative (colicin E1 and TLS phage) selection pressures, we quantified evolvability of the TolC. We demonstrated that the TolC is highly optimized for the efflux of antibiotics and bile salts. In contrast, under colicin E1 and TLS phage selection, TolC sequence is very sensitive to mutations. Finally, we have identified a large set of mutations in TolC that increase resistance of E. coli against colicin E1 or TLS phage without changing antibiotic susceptibility of bacterial cells. Our findings suggest that TolC is a highly evolvable target under negative selection which may limit the potential clinical use of bacteriophages and bacterial toxins if evolutionary aspects are not taken into account.

Adaptive Resistance Mutations at Suprainhibitory Concentrations Independent of SOS Mutagenesis

Sun, 27 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Emergence of resistant bacteria during antimicrobial treatment is one of the most critical and universal health threats. It is known that several stress-induced mutagenesis and heteroresistance mechanisms can enhance microbial adaptation to antibiotics. Here, we demonstrate that the pathogen Bartonella can undergo stress-induced mutagenesis despite the fact it lacks error-prone polymerases, the rpoS gene and functional UV-induced mutagenesis. We demonstrate that Bartonella acquire de novo single mutations during rifampicin exposure at suprainhibitory concentrations at a much higher rate than expected from spontaneous fluctuations. This is while exhibiting a minimal heteroresistance capacity. The emerged resistant mutants acquired a single rpoB mutation, whereas no other mutations were found in their whole genome. Interestingly, the emergence of resistance in Bartonella occurred only during gradual exposure to the antibiotic, indicating that Bartonella sense and react to the changing environment. Using a mathematical model, we demonstrated that, to reproduce the experimental results, mutation rates should be transiently increased over 1,000-folds, and a larger population size or greater heteroresistance capacity is required. RNA expression analysis suggests that the increased mutation rate is due to downregulation of key DNA repair genes (mutS, mutY, and recA), associated with DNA breaks caused by massive prophage inductions. These results provide new evidence of the hazard of antibiotic overuse in medicine and agriculture.

Selection on Phalanx Development in the Evolution of the Bird Wing

Wed, 23 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The frameshift hypothesis is a widely accepted model of bird wing evolution. This hypothesis postulates a shift in positional values, or molecular-developmental identity, that caused a change in digit phenotype. The hypothesis synthesized developmental and paleontological data on wing digit homology. The “most anterior digit” (MAD) hypothesis presents an alternative view based on changes in transcriptional regulation in the limb. The molecular evidence for both hypotheses is that the MAD expresses Hoxd13 but not Hoxd11 and Hoxd12. This digit I “signature” is thought to characterize all amniotes. Here, we studied Hoxd expression patterns in a phylogenetic sample of 18 amniotes. Instead of a conserved molecular signature in digit I, we find wide variation of Hoxd11, Hoxd12, and Hoxd13 expression in digit I. Patterns of apoptosis, and Sox9 expression, a marker of the phalanx-forming region, suggest that phalanges were lost from wing digit IV because of early arrest of the phalanx-forming region followed by cell death. Finally, we show that multiple amniote lineages lost phalanges with no frameshift. Our findings suggest that the bird wing evolved by targeted loss of phalanges under selection. Consistent with our view, some recent phylogenies based on dinosaur fossils eliminate the need to postulate a frameshift in the first place. We suggest that the phenotype of the Archaeopteryx lithographica wing is also consistent with phalanx loss. More broadly, our results support a gradualist model of evolution based on tinkering with developmental gene expression.

Museomics Dissects the Genetic Basis for Adaptive Seasonal Coloration in the Least Weasel

Tue, 22 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Dissecting the link between genetic variation and adaptive phenotypes provides outstanding opportunities to understand fundamental evolutionary processes. Here, we use a museomics approach to investigate the genetic basis and evolution of winter coat coloration morphs in least weasels (Mustela nivalis), a repeated adaptation for camouflage in mammals with seasonal pelage color moults across regions with varying winter snow. Whole-genome sequence data were obtained from biological collections and mapped onto a newly assembled reference genome for the species. Sampling represented two replicate transition zones between nivalis and vulgaris coloration morphs in Europe, which typically develop white or brown winter coats, respectively. Population analyses showed that the morph distribution across transition zones is not a by-product of historical structure. Association scans linked a 200-kb genomic region to coloration morph, which was validated by genotyping museum specimens from intermorph experimental crosses. Genotyping the wild populations narrowed down the association to pigmentation gene MC1R and pinpointed a candidate amino acid change cosegregating with coloration morph. This polymorphism replaces an ancestral leucine residue by lysine at the start of the first extracellular loop of the protein in the vulgaris morph. A selective sweep signature overlapped the association region in vulgaris, suggesting that past adaptation favored winter-brown morphs and can anchor future adaptive responses to decreasing winter snow. Using biological collections as valuable resources to study natural adaptations, our study showed a new evolutionary route generating winter color variation in mammals and that seasonal camouflage can be modulated by changes at single key genes.

The Evolutionary History of Wild, Domesticated, and Feral Brassica oleracea (Brassicaceae)

Tue, 22 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Understanding the evolutionary history of crops, including identifying wild relatives, helps to provide insight for conservation and crop breeding efforts. Cultivated Brassica oleracea has intrigued researchers for centuries due to its wide diversity in forms, which include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts. Yet, the evolutionary history of this species remains understudied. With such different vegetables produced from a single species, B. oleracea is a model organism for understanding the power of artificial selection. Persistent challenges in the study of B. oleracea include conflicting hypotheses regarding domestication and the identity of the closest living wild relative. Using newly generated RNA-seq data for a diversity panel of 224 accessions, which represents 14 different B. oleracea crop types and nine potential wild progenitor species, we integrate phylogenetic and population genetic techniques with ecological niche modeling, archaeological, and literary evidence to examine relationships among cultivars and wild relatives to clarify the origin of this horticulturally important species. Our analyses point to the Aegean endemic B. cretica as the closest living relative of cultivated B. oleracea, supporting an origin of cultivation in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Additionally, we identify several feral lineages, suggesting that cultivated plants of this species can revert to a wild-like state with relative ease. By expanding our understanding of the evolutionary history in B. oleracea, these results contribute to a growing body of knowledge on crop domestication that will facilitate continued breeding efforts including adaptation to changing environmental conditions.

Genetic Admixture in the Culturally Unique Peranakan Chinese Population in Southeast Asia

Mon, 21 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The Peranakan Chinese are culturally unique descendants of immigrants from China who settled in the Malay Archipelago ∼300–500 years ago. Today, among large communities in Southeast Asia, the Peranakans have preserved Chinese traditions with strong influence from the local indigenous Malays. Yet, whether or to what extent genetic admixture co-occurred with the cultural mixture has been a topic of ongoing debate. We performed whole-genome sequencing (WGS) on 177 Singapore (SG) Peranakans and analyzed the data jointly with WGS data of Asian and European populations. We estimated that Peranakan Chinese inherited ∼5.62% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 4.76–6.49%) Malay ancestry, much higher than that in SG Chinese (1.08%, 0.65–1.51%), southern Chinese (0.86%, 0.50–1.23%), and northern Chinese (0.25%, 0.18–0.32%). A sex-biased admixture history, in which the Malay ancestry was contributed primarily by females, was supported by X chromosomal variants, and mitochondrial (MT) and Y haplogroups. Finally, we identified an ancient admixture event shared by Peranakan Chinese and SG Chinese ∼1,612 (95% CI: 1,345–1,923) years ago, coinciding with the settlement history of Han Chinese in southern China, apart from the recent admixture event with Malays unique to Peranakan Chinese ∼190 (159–213) years ago. These findings greatly advance our understanding of the dispersal history of Chinese and their interaction with indigenous populations in Southeast Asia.

Chromosome Fusion Affects Genetic Diversity and Evolutionary Turnover of Functional Loci but Consistently Depends on Chromosome Size

Sat, 19 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Major changes in chromosome number and structure are linked to a series of evolutionary phenomena, including intrinsic barriers to gene flow or suppression of recombination due to chromosomal rearrangements. However, chromosome rearrangements can also affect the fundamental dynamics of molecular evolution within populations by changing relationships between linked loci and altering rates of recombination. Here, we build chromosome-level assembly Eueides isabella and, together with a recent chromosome-level assembly of Dryas iulia, examine the evolutionary consequences of multiple chromosome fusions in Heliconius butterflies. These assemblies pinpoint fusion points on 10 of the 20 autosomal chromosomes and reveal striking differences in the characteristics of fused and unfused chromosomes. The ten smallest autosomes in D. iulia and E. isabella, which have each fused to a longer chromosome in Heliconius, have higher repeat and GC content, and longer introns than predicted by their chromosome length. When fused, these characteristics change to become more in line with chromosome length. The fusions also led to reduced diversity, which likely reflects increased background selection and selection against introgression between diverging populations, following a reduction in per-base recombination rate. We further show that chromosome size and fusion impact turnover rates of functional loci at a macroevolutionary scale. Together these results provide further evidence that chromosome fusion in Heliconius likely had dramatic effects on population level processes shaping rates of neutral and adaptive divergence. These effects may have impacted patterns of diversification in Heliconius, a classic example of an adaptive radiation.

Tunicates Illuminate the Enigmatic Evolution of Chordate Metallothioneins by Gene Gains and Losses, Independent Modular Expansions, and Functional Convergences

Sat, 19 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

To investigate novel patterns and processes of protein evolution, we have focused in the metallothioneins (MTs), a singular group of metal-binding, cysteine-rich proteins that, due to their high degree of sequence diversity, still represents a “black hole” in Evolutionary Biology. We have identified and analyzed more than 160 new MTs in nonvertebrate chordates (especially in 37 species of ascidians, 4 thaliaceans, and 3 appendicularians) showing that prototypic tunicate MTs are mono-modular proteins with a pervasive preference for cadmium ions, whereas vertebrate and cephalochordate MTs are bimodular proteins with diverse metal preferences. These structural and functional differences imply a complex evolutionary history of chordate MTs—including de novo emergence of genes and domains, processes of convergent evolution, events of gene gains and losses, and recurrent amplifications of functional domains—that would stand for an unprecedented case in the field of protein evolution.

Fluctuating Environments Maintain Genetic Diversity through Neutral Fitness Effects and Balancing Selection

Wed, 16 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Genetic variation is the raw material upon which selection acts. The majority of environmental conditions change over time and therefore may result in variable selective effects. How temporally fluctuating environments impact the distribution of fitness effects and in turn population diversity is an unresolved question in evolutionary biology. Here, we employed continuous culturing using chemostats to establish environments that switch periodically between different nutrient limitations and compared the dynamics of selection to static conditions. We used the pooled Saccharomyces cerevisiae haploid gene deletion collection as a synthetic model for populations comprising thousands of unique genotypes. Using barcode sequencing, we find that static environments are uniquely characterized by a small number of high-fitness genotypes that rapidly dominate the population leading to dramatic decreases in genetic diversity. By contrast, fluctuating environments are enriched in genotypes with neutral fitness effects and an absence of extreme fitness genotypes contributing to the maintenance of genetic diversity. We also identified a unique class of genotypes whose frequencies oscillate sinusoidally with a period matching the environmental fluctuation. Oscillatory behavior corresponds to large differences in short-term fitness that are not observed across long timescales pointing to the importance of balancing selection in maintaining genetic diversity in fluctuating environments. Our results are consistent with a high degree of environmental specificity in the distribution of fitness effects and the combined effects of reduced and balancing selection in maintaining genetic diversity in the presence of variable selection.

Gene Conversion Facilitates the Adaptive Evolution of Self-Resistance in Highly Toxic Newts

Tue, 15 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Reconstructing the histories of complex adaptations and identifying the evolutionary mechanisms underlying their origins are two of the primary goals of evolutionary biology. Taricha newts, which contain high concentrations of the deadly toxin tetrodotoxin (TTX) as an antipredator defense, have evolved resistance to self-intoxication, which is a complex adaptation requiring changes in six paralogs of the voltage-gated sodium channel (Nav) gene family, the physiological target of TTX. Here, we reconstruct the origins of TTX self-resistance by sequencing the entire Nav gene family in newts and related salamanders. We show that moderate TTX resistance evolved early in the salamander lineage in three of the six Nav paralogs, preceding the proposed appearance of tetrodotoxic newts by ∼100 My. TTX-bearing newts possess additional unique substitutions across the entire Nav gene family that provide physiological TTX resistance. These substitutions coincide with signatures of positive selection and relaxed purifying selection, as well as gene conversion events, that together likely facilitated their evolution. We also identify a novel exon duplication within Nav1.4 encoding an expressed TTX-binding site. Two resistance-conferring changes within newts appear to have spread via nonallelic gene conversion: in one case, one codon was copied between paralogs, and in the second, multiple substitutions were homogenized between the duplicate exons of Nav1.4. Our results demonstrate that gene conversion can accelerate the coordinated evolution of gene families in response to a common selection pressure.

Geonomics: Forward-Time, Spatially Explicit, and Arbitrarily Complex Landscape Genomic Simulations

Sat, 12 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Understanding the drivers of spatial patterns of genomic diversity has emerged as a major goal of evolutionary genetics. The flexibility of forward-time simulation makes it especially valuable for these efforts, allowing for the simulation of arbitrarily complex scenarios in a way that mimics how real populations evolve. Here, we present Geonomics, a Python package for performing complex, spatially explicit, landscape genomic simulations with full spatial pedigrees that dramatically reduces user workload yet remains customizable and extensible because it is embedded within a popular, general-purpose language. We show that Geonomics results are consistent with expectations for a variety of validation tests based on classic models in population genetics and then demonstrate its utility and flexibility with a trio of more complex simulation scenarios that feature polygenic selection, selection on multiple traits, simulation on complex landscapes, and nonstationary environmental change. We then discuss runtime, which is primarily sensitive to landscape raster size, memory usage, which is primarily sensitive to maximum population size and recombination rate, and other caveats related to the model’s methods for approximating recombination and movement. Taken together, our tests and demonstrations show that Geonomics provides an efficient and robust platform for population genomic simulations that capture complex spatial and evolutionary dynamics.

Heterogeneous Histories of Recombination Suppression on Stickleback Sex Chromosomes

Sat, 12 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

How consistent are the evolutionary trajectories of sex chromosomes shortly after they form? Insights into the evolution of recombination, differentiation, and degeneration can be provided by comparing closely related species with homologous sex chromosomes. The sex chromosomes of the threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) and its sister species, the Japan Sea stickleback (G. nipponicus), have been well characterized. Little is known, however, about the sex chromosomes of their congener, the blackspotted stickleback (G. wheatlandi). We used pedigrees to obtain experimentally phased whole genome sequences from blackspotted stickleback X and Y chromosomes. Using multispecies gene trees and analysis of shared duplications, we demonstrate that Chromosome 19 is the ancestral sex chromosome and that its oldest stratum evolved in the common ancestor of the genus. After the blackspotted lineage diverged, its sex chromosomes experienced independent and more extensive recombination suppression, greater X–Y differentiation, and a much higher rate of Y degeneration than the other two species. These patterns may result from a smaller effective population size in the blackspotted stickleback. A recent fusion between the ancestral blackspotted stickleback Y chromosome and Chromosome 12, which produced a neo-X and neo-Y, may have been favored by the very small size of the recombining region on the ancestral sex chromosome. We identify six strata on the ancestral and neo-sex chromosomes where recombination between the X and Y ceased at different times. These results confirm that sex chromosomes can evolve large differences within and between species over short evolutionary timescales.

Evolutionary and Ecological Drivers Shape the Emergence and Extinction of Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus Lineages

Fri, 11 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Livestock farming across the world is constantly threatened by the evolutionary turnover of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) strains in endemic systems, the underlying dynamics of which remain to be elucidated. Here, we map the eco-evolutionary landscape of cocirculating FMDV lineages within an important endemic virus pool encompassing Western, Central, and parts of Southern Asia, reconstructing the evolutionary history and spatial dynamics over the last 20 years that shape the current epidemiological situation. We demonstrate that new FMDV variants periodically emerge from Southern Asia, precipitating waves of virus incursions that systematically travel in a westerly direction. We evidence how metapopulation dynamics drive the emergence and extinction of spatially structured virus populations, and how transmission in different host species regulates the evolutionary space of virus serotypes. Our work provides the first integrative framework that defines coevolutionary signatures of FMDV in regional contexts to help understand the complex interplay between virus phenotypes, host characteristics, and key epidemiological determinants of transmission that drive FMDV evolution in endemic settings.

Species-Wide Transposable Element Repertoires Retrace the Evolutionary History of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae Host

Fri, 11 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Transposable elements (TE) are an important source of genetic variation with a dynamic and content that greatly differ in a wide range of species. The origin of the intraspecific content variation is not always clear and little is known about the precise nature of it. Here, we surveyed the species-wide content of the Ty LTR-retrotransposons in a broad collection of 1,011 Saccharomyces cerevisiae natural isolates to understand what can stand behind the variation of the repertoire that is the type and number of Ty elements. We have compiled an exhaustive catalog of all the TE sequence variants present in the S. cerevisiae species by identifying a large set of new sequence variants. The characterization of the TE content in each isolate clearly highlighted that each subpopulation exhibits a unique and specific repertoire, retracing the evolutionary history of the species. Most interestingly, we have shown that ancient interspecific hybridization events had a major impact in the birth of new sequence variants and therefore in the shaping of the TE repertoires. We also investigated the transpositional activity of these elements in a large set of natural isolates, and we found a broad variability related to the level of ploidy as well as the genetic background. Overall, our results pointed out that the evolution of the Ty content is deeply impacted by clade-specific events such as introgressions and therefore follows the population structure. In addition, our study lays the foundation for future investigations to better understand the transpositional regulation and more broadly the TE–host interactions.

Unique Pathogen Peptidomes Facilitate Pathogen-Specific Selection and Specialization of MHC Alleles

Thu, 10 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

A key component of pathogen-specific adaptive immunity in vertebrates is the presentation of pathogen-derived antigenic peptides by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. The excessive polymorphism observed at MHC genes is widely presumed to result from the need to recognize diverse pathogens, a process called pathogen-driven balancing selection. This process assumes that pathogens differ in their peptidomes—the pool of short peptides derived from the pathogen’s proteome—so that different pathogens select for different MHC variants with distinct peptide-binding properties. Here, we tested this assumption in a comprehensive data set of 51.9 Mio peptides, derived from the peptidomes of 36 representative human pathogens. Strikingly, we found that 39.7% of the 630 pairwise comparisons among pathogens yielded not a single shared peptide and only 1.8% of pathogen pairs shared more than 1% of their peptides. Indeed, 98.8% of all peptides were unique to a single pathogen species. Using computational binding prediction to characterize the binding specificities of 321 common human MHC class-I variants, we investigated quantitative differences among MHC variants with regard to binding peptides from distinct pathogens. Our analysis showed signatures of specialization toward specific pathogens especially by MHC variants with narrow peptide-binding repertoires. This supports the hypothesis that such fastidious MHC variants might be maintained in the population because they provide an advantage against particular pathogens. Overall, our results establish a key selection factor for the excessive allelic diversity at MHC genes observed in natural populations and illuminate the evolution of variable peptide-binding repertoires among MHC variants.

Patterns and Causes of Signed Linkage Disequilibria in Flies and Plants

Mon, 07 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Most empirical studies of linkage disequilibrium (LD) study its magnitude, ignoring its sign. Here, we examine patterns of signed LD in two population genomic data sets, one from Capsella grandiflora and one from Drosophila melanogaster. We consider how processes such as drift, admixture, Hill–Robertson interference, and epistasis may contribute to these patterns. We report that most types of mutations exhibit positive LD, particularly, if they are predicted to be less deleterious. We show with simulations that this pattern arises easily in a model of admixture or distance-biased mating, and that genome-wide differences across site types are generally expected due to differences in the strength of purifying selection even in the absence of epistasis. We further explore how signed LD decays on a finer scale, showing that loss of function mutations exhibit particularly positive LD across short distances, a pattern consistent with intragenic antagonistic epistasis. Controlling for genomic distance, signed LD in C. grandiflora decays faster within genes, compared with between genes, likely a by-product of frequent recombination in gene promoters known to occur in plant genomes. Finally, we use information from published biological networks to explore whether there is evidence for negative synergistic epistasis between interacting radical missense mutations. In D. melanogaster networks, we find a modest but significant enrichment of negative LD, consistent with the possibility of intranetwork negative synergistic epistasis.

Rooting the Animal Tree of Life

Mon, 07 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Identifying our most distant animal relatives has emerged as one of the most challenging problems in phylogenetics. This debate has major implications for our understanding of the origin of multicellular animals and of the earliest events in animal evolution, including the origin of the nervous system. Some analyses identify sponges as our most distant animal relatives (Porifera-sister hypothesis), and others identify comb jellies (Ctenophora-sister hypothesis). These analyses vary in many respects, making it difficult to interpret previous tests of these hypotheses. To gain insight into why different studies yield different results, an important next step in the ongoing debate, we systematically test these hypotheses by synthesizing 15 previous phylogenomic studies and performing new standardized analyses under consistent conditions with additional models. We find that Ctenophora-sister is recovered across the full range of examined conditions, and Porifera-sister is recovered in some analyses under narrow conditions when most outgroups are excluded and site-heterogeneous CAT models are used. We additionally find that the number of categories in site-heterogeneous models is sufficient to explain the Porifera-sister results. Furthermore, our cross-validation analyses show CAT models that recover Porifera-sister have hundreds of additional categories and fail to fit significantly better than site-heterogenuous models with far fewer categories. Systematic and standardized testing of diverse phylogenetic models suggests that we should be skeptical of Porifera-sister results both because they are recovered under such narrow conditions and because the models in these conditions fit the data no better than other models that recover Ctenophora-sister.

Finding Hybrid Incompatibilities Using Genome Sequences from Hybrid Populations

Mon, 07 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Natural hybrid zones offer a powerful framework for understanding the genetic basis of speciation in progress because ongoing hybridization continually creates unfavorable gene combinations. Evidence indicates that postzygotic reproductive isolation is often caused by epistatic interactions between mutations in different genes that evolved independently of one another (hybrid incompatibilities). We examined the potential to detect epistatic selection against incompatibilities from genome sequence data using the site frequency spectrum (SFS) of polymorphisms by conducting individual-based simulations in SLiM. We found that the genome-wide SFS in hybrid populations assumes a diagnostic shape, with the continual input of fixed differences between source populations via migration inducing a mass at intermediate allele frequency. Epistatic selection locally distorts the SFS as non-incompatibility alleles rise in frequency in a manner analogous to a selective sweep. Building on these results, we present a statistical method to identify genomic regions containing incompatibility loci that locates departures in the local SFS compared with the genome-wide SFS. Cross-validation studies demonstrate that our method detects recessive and codominant incompatibilities across a range of scenarios varying in the strength of epistatic selection, migration rate, and hybrid zone age. Our approach takes advantage of whole genome sequence data, does not require knowledge of demographic history, and can be applied to any pair of nascent species that forms a hybrid zone.

AniProtDB: A Collection of Consistently Generated Metazoan Proteomes for Comparative Genomics Studies

Fri, 28 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

To address the void in the availability of high-quality proteomic data traversing the animal tree, we have implemented a pipeline for generating de novo assemblies based on publicly available data from the NCBI Sequence Read Archive, yielding a comprehensive collection of proteomes from 100 species spanning 21 animal phyla. We have also created the Animal Proteome Database (AniProtDB), a resource providing open access to this collection of high-quality metazoan proteomes, along with information on predicted proteins and protein domains for each taxonomic classification and the ability to perform sequence similarity searches against all proteomes generated using this pipeline. This solution vastly increases the utility of these data by removing the barrier to access for research groups who do not have the expertise or resources to generate these data themselves and enables the use of data from nontraditional research organisms that have the potential to address key questions in biomedicine.

On the Origin of Frameshift-Robustness of the Standard Genetic Code

Thu, 27 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The standard genetic code (SGC) has been extensively analyzed for the biological ramifications of its nonrandom structure. For instance, mismatch errors due to point mutation or mistranslation have an overall smaller effect on the amino acid polar requirement under the SGC than under random genetic codes (RGCs). A similar observation was recently made for frameshift errors, prompting the assertion that the SGC has been shaped by natural selection for frameshift-robustness—conservation of certain amino acid properties upon a frameshift mutation or translational frameshift. However, frameshift-robustness confers no benefit because frameshifts usually create premature stop codons that cause nonsense-mediated mRNA decay or production of nonfunctional truncated proteins. We here propose that the frameshift-robustness of the SGC is a byproduct of its mismatch-robustness. Of 564 amino acid properties considered, the SGC exhibits mismatch-robustness in 93–133 properties and frameshift-robustness in 55 properties, respectively, and that the latter is largely a subset of the former. For each of the 564 real and 564 randomly constructed fake properties of amino acids, there is a positive correlation between mismatch-robustness and frameshift-robustness across one million RGCs; this correlation arises because most amino acid changes resulting from a frameshift are also achievable by a mismatch error. Importantly, the SGC does not show significantly higher frameshift-robustness in any of the 55 properties than RGCs of comparable mismatch-robustness. These findings support that the frameshift-robustness of the SGC need not originate through direct selection and can instead be a site effect of its mismatch-robustness.

Robustness of Phylogenetic Inference to Model Misspecification Caused by Pairwise Epistasis

Thu, 27 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Likelihood-based phylogenetic inference posits a probabilistic model of character state change along branches of a phylogenetic tree. These models typically assume statistical independence of sites in the sequence alignment. This is a restrictive assumption that facilitates computational tractability, but ignores how epistasis, the effect of genetic background on mutational effects, influences the evolution of functional sequences. We consider the effect of using a misspecified site-independent model on the accuracy of Bayesian phylogenetic inference in the setting of pairwise-site epistasis. Previous work has shown that as alignment length increases, tree reconstruction accuracy also increases. Here, we present a simulation study demonstrating that accuracy increases with alignment size even if the additional sites are epistatically coupled. We introduce an alignment-based test statistic that is a diagnostic for pairwise epistasis and can be used in posterior predictive checks.

Inferring Genome-Wide Correlations of Mutation Fitness Effects between Populations

Thu, 27 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The effect of a mutation on fitness may differ between populations depending on environmental and genetic context, but little is known about the factors that underlie such differences. To quantify genome-wide correlations in mutation fitness effects, we developed a novel concept called a joint distribution of fitness effects (DFE) between populations. We then proposed a new statistic w to measure the DFE correlation between populations. Using simulation, we showed that inferring the DFE correlation from the joint allele frequency spectrum is statistically precise and robust. Using population genomic data, we inferred DFE correlations of populations in humans, Drosophila melanogaster, and wild tomatoes. In these species, we found that the overall correlation of the joint DFE was inversely related to genetic differentiation. In humans and D. melanogaster, deleterious mutations had a lower DFE correlation than tolerated mutations, indicating a complex joint DFE. Altogether, the DFE correlation can be reliably inferred, and it offers extensive insight into the genetics of population divergence.

Broad Concordance in the Spatial Distribution of Adaptive and Neutral Genetic Variation across an Elevational Gradient in Deer Mice

Tue, 25 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

When species are continuously distributed across environmental gradients, the relative strength of selection and gene flow shape spatial patterns of genetic variation, potentially leading to variable levels of differentiation across loci. Determining whether adaptive genetic variation tends to be structured differently than neutral variation along environmental gradients is an open and important question in evolutionary genetics. We performed exome-wide population genomic analysis on deer mice sampled along an elevational gradient of nearly 4,000 m of vertical relief. Using a combination of selection scans, genotype−environment associations, and geographic cline analyses, we found that a large proportion of the exome has experienced a history of altitude-related selection. Elevational clines for nearly 30% of these putatively adaptive loci were shifted significantly up- or downslope of clines for loci that did not bear similar signatures of selection. Many of these selection targets can be plausibly linked to known phenotypic differences between highland and lowland deer mice, although the vast majority of these candidates have not been reported in other studies of highland taxa. Together, these results suggest new hypotheses about the genetic basis of physiological adaptation to high altitude, and the spatial distribution of adaptive genetic variation along environmental gradients.

The Worldwide Invasion of Drosophila suzukii Is Accompanied by a Large Increase of Transposable Element Load and a Small Number of Putatively Adaptive Insertions

Sat, 22 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Transposable elements (TEs) are ubiquitous and mobile repeated sequences. They are major determinants of host fitness. Here, we characterized the TE content of the spotted wing fly Drosophila suzukii. Using a recently improved genome assembly, we reconstructed TE sequences de novo and found that TEs occupy 47% of the genome and are mostly located in gene-poor regions. The majority of TE insertions segregate at low frequencies, indicating a recent and probably ongoing TE activity. To explore TE dynamics in the context of biological invasions, we studied the variation of TE abundance in genomic data from 16 invasive and six native populations of D. suzukii. We found a large increase of the TE load in invasive populations correlated with a reduced Watterson estimate of genetic diversity θw^ a proxy of effective population size. We did not find any correlation between TE contents and bioclimatic variables, indicating a minor effect of environmentally induced TE activity. A genome-wide association study revealed that ca. 2,000 genomic regions are associated with TE abundance. We did not find, however, any evidence in such regions of an enrichment for genes known to interact with TE activity (e.g., transcription factor encoding genes or genes of the piRNA pathway). Finally, the study of TE insertion frequencies revealed 15 putatively adaptive TE insertions, six of them being likely associated with the recent invasion history of the species.

Integrated Environmental and Genomic Analysis Reveals the Drivers of Local Adaptation in African Indigenous Chickens

Sat, 22 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Breeding for climate resilience is currently an important goal for sustainable livestock production. Local adaptations exhibited by indigenous livestock allow investigating the genetic control of this resilience. Ecological niche modeling (ENM) provides a powerful avenue to identify the main environmental drivers of selection. Here, we applied an integrative approach combining ENM with genome-wide selection signature analyses (XPEHH and Fst) and genotype−environment association (redundancy analysis), with the aim of identifying the genomic signatures of adaptation in African village chickens. By dissecting 34 agro-climatic variables from the ecosystems of 25 Ethiopian village chicken populations, ENM identified six key drivers of environmental challenges: One temperature variable—strongly correlated with elevation, three precipitation variables as proxies for water availability, and two soil/land cover variables as proxies of food availability for foraging chickens. Genome analyses based on whole-genome sequencing (n = 245), identified a few strongly supported genomic regions under selection for environmental challenges related to altitude, temperature, water scarcity, and food availability. These regions harbor several gene clusters including regulatory genes, suggesting a predominantly oligogenic control of environmental adaptation. Few candidate genes detected in relation to heat-stress, indicates likely epigenetic regulation of thermo-tolerance for a domestic species originating from a tropical Asian wild ancestor. These results provide possible explanations for the rapid past adaptation of chickens to diverse African agro-ecologies, while also representing new landmarks for sustainable breeding improvement for climate resilience. We show that the pre-identification of key environmental drivers, followed by genomic investigation, provides a powerful new approach for elucidating adaptation in domestic animals.

A Chromosome-Level Assembly of Blunt Snout Bream (Megalobrama amblycephala) Genome Reveals an Expansion of Olfactory Receptor Genes in Freshwater Fish

Tue, 18 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The number of olfactory receptor genes (ORs), which are responsible for detecting diverse odor molecules varies extensively among mammals as a result of frequent gene gains and losses that contribute to olfactory specialization. However, how OR expansions/contractions in fish are influenced by habitat and feeding habit and which OR subfamilies are important in each ecological niche is unknown. Here, we report a major OR expansion in a freshwater herbivorous fish, Megalobrama amblycephala, using a highly contiguous, chromosome-level assembly. We evaluate the possible contribution of OR expansion to habitat and feeding specialization by comparing the OR repertoire in 28 phylogenetically and ecologically diverse teleosts. In total, we analyzed > 4,000 ORs including 3,253 intact, 122 truncated, and 913 pseudogenes. The number of intact ORs is highly variable ranging from 20 to 279. We estimate that the most recent common ancestor of Osteichthyes had 62 intact ORs, which declined in most lineages except the freshwater Otophysa clade that has a substantial expansion in subfamily β and ε ORs. Across teleosts, we found a strong association between duplications of β and ε ORs and freshwater habitat. Nearly, all ORs were expressed in the olfactory epithelium (OE) in three tested fish species. Specifically, all the expanded β and ε ORs were highly expressed in OE of M. amblycephala. Together, we provide molecular and functional evidence for how OR repertoires in fish have undergone gain and loss with respect to ecological factors and highlight the role of β and ε OR in freshwater adaptation.

Analysis of Genomic DNA from Medieval Plague Victims Suggests Long-Term Effect of Yersinia pestis on Human Immunity Genes

Tue, 18 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Pathogens and associated outbreaks of infectious disease exert selective pressure on human populations, and any changes in allele frequencies that result may be especially evident for genes involved in immunity. In this regard, the 1346-1353 Yersinia pestis-caused Black Death pandemic, with continued plague outbreaks spanning several hundred years, is one of the most devastating recorded in human history. To investigate the potential impact of Y. pestis on human immunity genes, we extracted DNA from 36 plague victims buried in a mass grave in Ellwangen, Germany in the 16th century. We targeted 488 immune-related genes, including HLA, using a novel in-solution hybridization capture approach. In comparison with 50 modern native inhabitants of Ellwangen, we find differences in allele frequencies for variants of the innate immunity proteins Ficolin-2 and NLRP14 at sites involved in determining specificity. We also observed that HLA-DRB1*13 is more than twice as frequent in the modern population, whereas HLA-B alleles encoding an isoleucine at position 80 (I-80+), HLA C*06:02 and HLA-DPB1 alleles encoding histidine at position 9 are half as frequent in the modern population. Simulations show that natural selection has likely driven these allele frequency changes. Thus, our data suggest that allele frequencies of HLA genes involved in innate and adaptive immunity responsible for extracellular and intracellular responses to pathogenic bacteria, such as Y. pestis, could have been affected by the historical epidemics that occurred in Europe.

Xenogeneic Silencing and Bacterial Genome Evolution: Mechanisms for DNA Recognition Imply Multifaceted Roles of Xenogeneic Silencers

Tue, 18 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is a major driving force for bacterial evolution. To avoid the deleterious effects due to the unregulated expression of newly acquired foreign genes, bacteria have evolved specific proteins named xenogeneic silencers to recognize foreign DNA sequences and suppress their transcription. As there is considerable diversity in genomic base compositions among bacteria, how xenogeneic silencers distinguish self- from nonself DNA in different bacteria remains poorly understood. This review summarizes the progress in studying the DNA binding preferences and the underlying molecular mechanisms of known xenogeneic silencer families, represented by H-NS of Escherichia coli, Lsr2 of Mycobacterium, MvaT of Pseudomonas, and Rok of Bacillus. Comparative analyses of the published data indicate that the differences in DNA recognition mechanisms enable these xenogeneic silencers to have clear characteristics in DNA sequence preferences, which are further correlated with different host genomic features. These correlations provide insights into the mechanisms of how these xenogeneic silencers selectively target foreign DNA in different genomic backgrounds. Furthermore, it is revealed that the genomic AT contents of bacterial species with the same xenogeneic silencer family proteins are distributed in a limited range and are generally lower than those species without any known xenogeneic silencers in the same phylum/class/genus, indicating that xenogeneic silencers have multifaceted roles on bacterial genome evolution. In addition to regulating horizontal gene transfer, xenogeneic silencers also act as a selective force against the GC to AT mutational bias found in bacterial genomes and help the host genomic AT contents maintained at relatively low levels.

Population Structure Limits Parallel Evolution in Sticklebacks

Thu, 06 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Population genetic theory predicts that small effective population sizes (Ne) and restricted gene flow limit the potential for local adaptation. In particular, the probability of evolving similar phenotypes based on shared genetic mechanisms (i.e., parallel evolution), is expected to be reduced. We tested these predictions in a comparative genomic study of two ecologically similar and geographically codistributed stickleback species (viz. Gasterosteus aculeatus and Pungitius pungitius). We found that P. pungitius harbors less genetic diversity and exhibits higher levels of genetic differentiation and isolation-by-distance than G. aculeatus. Conversely, G. aculeatus exhibits a stronger degree of genetic parallelism across freshwater populations than P. pungitius: 2,996 versus 379 single nucleotide polymorphisms located within 26 versus 9 genomic regions show evidence of selection in multiple freshwater populations of G. aculeatus and P. pungitius, respectively. Most regions involved in parallel evolution in G. aculeatus showed increased levels of divergence, suggestive of selection on ancient haplotypes. In contrast, haplotypes involved in freshwater adaptation in P. pungitius were younger. In accordance with theory, the results suggest that connectivity and genetic drift play crucial roles in determining the levels and geographic distribution of standing genetic variation, providing evidence that population subdivision limits local adaptation and therefore also the likelihood of parallel evolution.

Conserved and unique transcriptional features of pharyngeal arches in the skate (Leucoraja erinacea) and evolution of the jaw

Tue, 27 Apr 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The origin of the jaw is a long-standing problem in vertebrate evolutionary biology. Classical hypotheses of serial homology propose that the upper and lower jaw evolved through modifications of dorsal and ventral gill arch skeletal elements, respectively. If the jaw and gill arches are derived members of a primitive branchial series, we predict that they would share common developmental patterning mechanisms. Using candidate and RNAseq/differential gene expression analyses, we find broad conservation of dorsoventral (DV) patterning mechanisms within the developing mandibular, hyoid, and gill arches of a cartilaginous fish, the skate (Leucoraja erinacea). Shared features include expression of genes encoding members of the ventralizing BMP and endothelin signaling pathways and their effectors, the joint markers nkx3.2 and gdf5 and prochondrogenic transcription factor barx1, and the dorsal territory marker pou3f3. Additionally, we find that mesenchymal expression of eya1/six1 is an ancestral feature of the mandibular arch of jawed vertebrates, whereas differences in notch signaling distinguish the mandibular and gill arches in skate. Comparative transcriptomic analyses of mandibular and gill arch tissues reveal additional genes differentially expressed along the DV axis of the pharyngeal arches, including scamp5 as a novel marker of the dorsal mandibular arch, as well as distinct transcriptional features of mandibular and gill arch muscle progenitors and developing gill buds. Taken together, our findings reveal conserved patterning mechanisms in the pharyngeal arches of jawed vertebrates, consistent with serial homology of their skeletal derivatives, as well as unique transcriptional features that may underpin distinct jaw and gill arch morphologies.

Analysis of Fungal Genomes Reveals Commonalities of Intron Gain or Loss and Functions in Intron-Poor Species

Sat, 27 Mar 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Previous evolutionary reconstructions have concluded that early eukaryotic ancestors including both the last common ancestor of eukaryotes and of all fungi had intron-rich genomes. By contrast, some extant eukaryotes have few introns, underscoring the complex histories of intron–exon structures, and raising the question as to why these few introns are retained. Here, we have used recently available fungal genomes to address a variety of questions related to intron evolution. Evolutionary reconstruction of intron presence and absence using 263 diverse fungal species supports the idea that massive intron reduction through intron loss has occurred in multiple clades. The intron densities estimated in various fungal ancestors differ from zero to 7.6 introns per 1 kb of protein-coding sequence. Massive intron loss has occurred not only in microsporidian parasites and saccharomycetous yeasts, but also in diverse smuts and allies. To investigate the roles of the remaining introns in highly-reduced species, we have searched for their special characteristics in eight intron-poor fungi. Notably, the introns of ribosome-associated genes RPL7 and NOG2 have conserved positions; both intron-containing genes encoding snoRNAs. Furthermore, both the proteins and snoRNAs are involved in ribosome biogenesis, suggesting that the expression of the protein-coding genes and noncoding snoRNAs may be functionally coordinated. Indeed, these introns are also conserved in three-quarters of fungi species. Our study shows that fungal introns have a complex evolutionary history and underappreciated roles in gene expression.

Detecting Genetic Ancestry and Adaptation in the Taiwanese Han People

Tue, 10 Nov 2020 00:00:00 GMT

The Taiwanese people are composed of diverse indigenous populations and the Taiwanese Han. About 95% of the Taiwanese identify themselves as Taiwanese Han, but this may not be a homogeneous population because they migrated to the island from various regions of continental East Asia over a period of 400 years. Little is known about the underlying patterns of genetic ancestry, population admixture, and evolutionary adaptation in the Taiwanese Han people. Here, we analyzed the whole-genome single-nucleotide polymorphism genotyping data from 14,401 individuals of Taiwanese Han collected by the Taiwan Biobank and the whole-genome sequencing data for a subset of 772 people. We detected four major genetic ancestries with distinct geographic distributions (i.e., Northern, Southeastern, Japonic, and Island Southeast Asian ancestries) and signatures of population mixture contributing to the genomes of Taiwanese Han. We further scanned for signatures of positive natural selection that caused unusually long-range haplotypes and elevations of hitchhiked variants. As a result, we identified 16 candidate loci in which selection signals can be unambiguously localized at five single genes: CTNNA2, LRP1B, CSNK1G3, ASTN2, and NEO1. Statistical associations were examined in 16 metabolic-related traits to further elucidate the functional effects of each candidate gene. All five genes appear to have pleiotropic connections to various types of disease susceptibility and significant associations with at least one metabolic-related trait. Together, our results provide critical insights for understanding the evolutionary history and adaption of the Taiwanese Han population.

GBE | Most Read

Genome Biology & Evolution

Corrigendum to: Genomic Evidence of an Ancient East Asian Divergence Event in Wild Saccharomyces cerevisiae

Wed, 06 Oct 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Genome Biology and Evolution, Volume 13, Issue 2, evab001, https://doi.org/10.1093/gbe/evab001

Highlight—“Junk DNA” No More: Repetitive Elements as Vital Sources of Flatworm Variation

Tue, 05 Oct 2021 00:00:00 GMT

“The days of ‘junk DNA’ are over,” according to Christoph Grunau and Christoph Grevelding, the senior authors of a new research article in Genome Biology and Evolution. Their study provides an in-depth look at an enigmatic superfamily of repetitive DNA sequences known as W elements in the genome of the human parasite Schistosoma mansoni (Stitz et al. 2021). Titled “Satellite-like W elements: repetitive, transcribed, and putative mobile genetic factors with potential roles for biology and evolution of Schistosoma mansoni,” the analysis reveals structural, functional, and evolutionary aspects of these elements and shows that, far from being “junk,” they may exert an enduring influence on the biology of S. mansoni.

Plastome Structural Evolution and Homoplastic Inversions in Neo-Astragalus (Fabaceae)

Fri, 17 Sep 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The plastid genomes of photosynthetic green plants have largely maintained conserved gene content and order as well as structure over hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Several plant lineages, however, have departed from this conservation and contain many plastome structural rearrangements, which have been associated with an abundance of repeated sequences both overall and near rearrangement endpoints. We sequenced the plastomes of 25 taxa of Astragalus L. (Fabaceae), a large genus in the inverted repeat-lacking clade of legumes, to gain a greater understanding of the connection between repeats and plastome inversions. We found plastome repeat structure has a strong phylogenetic signal among these closely related taxa mostly in the New World clade of Astragalus called Neo-Astragalus. Taxa without inversions also do not differ substantially in their overall repeat structure from four taxa each with one large-scale inversion. For two taxa with inversion endpoints between the same pairs of genes, differences in their exact endpoints indicate the inversions occurred independently. Our proposed mechanism for inversion formation suggests the short inverted repeats now found near the endpoints of the four inversions may be there as a result of these inversions rather than their cause. The longer inverted repeats now near endpoints may have allowed the inversions first mediated by shorter microhomologous sequences to propagate, something that should be considered in explaining how any plastome rearrangement becomes fixed regardless of the mechanism of initial formation.

Satellite-Like W-Elements: Repetitive, Transcribed, and Putative Mobile Genetic Factors with Potential Roles for Biology and Evolution of Schistosoma mansoni

Wed, 01 Sep 2021 00:00:00 GMT

A large portion of animal and plant genomes consists of noncoding DNA. This part includes tandemly repeated sequences and gained attention because it offers exciting insights into genome biology. We investigated satellite-DNA elements of the platyhelminth Schistosoma mansoni, a parasite with remarkable biological features. Schistosoma mansoni lives in the vasculature of humans causing schistosomiasis, a disease of worldwide importance. Schistosomes are the only trematodes that have evolved separate sexes, and the sexual maturation of the female depends on constant pairing with the male. The schistosome karyotype comprises eight chromosome pairs, males are homogametic (ZZ) and females are heterogametic (ZW). Part of the repetitive DNA of S. mansoni are W-elements (WEs), originally discovered as female-specific satellite DNAs in the heterochromatic block of the W-chromosome. Based on new genome and transcriptome data, we performed a reanalysis of the W-element families (WEFs). Besides a new classification of 19 WEFs, we provide first evidence for stage-, sex-, pairing-, gonad-, and strain-specific/preferential transcription of WEs as well as their mobile nature, deduced from autosomal copies of full-length and partial WEs. Structural analyses suggested roles as sources of noncoding RNA-like hammerhead ribozymes, for which we obtained functional evidence. Finally, the variable WEF occurrence in different schistosome species revealed remarkable divergence. From these results, we propose that WEs potentially exert enduring influence on the biology of S. mansoni. Their variable occurrence in different strains, isolates, and species suggests that schistosome WEs may represent genetic factors taking effect on variability and evolution of the family Schistosomatidae.