Organising Committee

Official SMBE Liaison Officers
Mary O'Connell
University of Nottingham
School of Life Sciences, University Park, NG72RD United Kingdom

Beth Shapiro
UC Santa Cruz
1156 High St., Mail Stop EEBiology/CBB, Santa Cruz, CA 95064 

SMBE President
Harmit Malik
Division of Basic Sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; 
Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Department of Genome Sciences, A1-162 Box 358080, Seattle, WA

Hub Organizers
Laura Carrilero Aguado
Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology - The University of Sheffield
S10 2TN, Sheffield, England

Vincent Castric
Unite Evo-Eco-Paleo
CNRS-Universite de Lille - France

Yichen Dai

Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology; 
Institute of Zoology; Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China

Debayan Dey
Conn Lab, Emory University School of Medicine
Atlanta, GA, USA

Anne Genissel
French National Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment;
Fungal Biology and Risk Management in Agriculture, Thiverval-Grignon, 78850, France

Emmanuelle Lerat
Laboratoire Biométrie et Biologie Evolutive,
Université Lyon 1, CNRS; Villeurbanne, France

Laure Segurel
CNRS, Biométrie et Biologie Evolutive (LBBE)
UCB Lyon 1, 43 Bld du 11 Novembre 1918, 69622 Villeurbanne cedex, France

Bertrand Servin
INRAE, Génétique, Physiologie, Systèmes d'Elevage
24 Chemin de Borde-Rouge, Auzeville, 31326 Castanet-Tolosan, France

Margarita Takou
Institute of Botany, University of Cologne
Cologne, Germany

Maud Tenaillon
CNRS, Génétique Quantitative et Evolution -  Le Moulon,
91190, Gif-sur-Yvette, France

Xiao Wang

Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology; 
Institute of Zoology; Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China

Lev Yampolsky
Department of Biological Sciences;
East Tennessee State University, Johnson City TN 37614, USA

Weiwei Zhai
Key Laboratory of Zoological Systematics and Evolution, Institute of Zoology,
Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100101, China

Xuming Zhou
Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology; 
Institute of Zoology; Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China.

Xuan (Shaine) Zhuang
Department of Biological Sciences,
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701, USA

SMBE Administrator
Lulu Stader

SMBE Business Office Manager
Christopher Lapine


A Virtual Meeting to Beat All Virtual Meetings
3-8 July 


We hope you enjoyed attending the 2021 Society for Molecular Biology & Evolution meeting  which took place virtually 3-8 July 2021!

SMBE 2021 ran across three geographical hubs. We hoped in this way to make the conference as accessible as possible across our global community. All presentations were pre-recorded and discussion rooms were available for all participants to interact live online with speakers. There were also be designated poster space and live interactive poster sessions.

If you were not able to attend, we have loaded all presentations to the SMEBv2021 Vimeo channel: (password: smbe2021). 

Please enjoy these at your leisure and below are h
elpful documents for reference:
  • The online program may be accessed HERE
  • PDF Abstract Book available HERE
2021 Logo Competition Winners:
  • 1st Place is Catalina Maria Gonda 
  • 2nd Place is Marina Alvarez 
  • 3rd Place is Ang McGauchran 
Questions? Please contact 

@OfficialSMBE Feed

MBE | Most Read

Molecular Biology and Evolution

Corrigendum to: Parallel Evolution of Complex Centipede Venoms Revealed by Comparative Proteotranscriptomic Analyses

Fri, 16 Jul 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Molecular Biology and Evolution, Volume 36, Issue 12, December 2019, Pages 2748–2763,

Reconciling Asgardarchaeota Phylogenetic Proximity to Eukaryotes and Planctomycetes Cellular Features in the Evolution of Life

Tue, 06 Jul 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The relationship between the three domains of life—Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya—is one of Biology’s greatest mysteries. Current favored models imply two ancestral domains, Bacteria and Archaea, with eukaryotes originating within Archaea. This type of models has been supported by the recent description of the Asgardarchaeota, the closest prokaryotic relatives of eukaryotes. However, there are many problems associated with any scenarios implying that eukaryotes originated from within the Archaea, including genome mosaicism, phylogenies, the cellular organization of the Archaea, and their ancestral character. By contrast, all models of eukaryogenesis fail to consider two relevant discoveries: the detection of membrane coat proteins, and of phagocytosis-related processes in Planctomycetes, which are among the bacteria with the most developed endomembrane system.Consideration of these often overlooked features and others found in Planctomycetes and related bacteria suggest an evolutionary model based on a single ancestral domain. In this model, the proximity of Asgard and eukaryotes is not rejected but instead, Asgard are considered as diverging away from a common ancestor instead of on the way toward the eukaryotic ancestor. This model based on a single ancestral domain solves most of the ambiguities associated with the ones based on two ancestral domains. The single-domain model is better suited to explain the origin and evolution of all three domains of life, blurring the distinctions between them. Support for this model as well as the opportunities that it presents not only for reinterpreting previous results, but also for planning future experiments, are explored.

Monitoring Insect Transposable Elements in Large Double-Stranded DNA Viruses Reveals Host-to-Virus and Virus-to-Virus Transposition

Wed, 30 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The mechanisms by which transposable elements (TEs) can be horizontally transferred between animals are unknown, but viruses are possible candidate vectors. Here, we surveyed the presence of host-derived TEs in viral genomes in 35 deep sequencing data sets produced from 11 host–virus systems, encompassing nine arthropod host species (five lepidopterans, two dipterans, and two crustaceans) and six different double-stranded (ds) DNA viruses (four baculoviruses and two iridoviruses). We found evidence of viral-borne TEs in 14 data sets, with frequencies of viral genomes carrying a TE ranging from 0.01% to 26.33% for baculoviruses and from 0.45% to 7.36% for iridoviruses. The analysis of viral populations separated by a single replication cycle revealed that viral-borne TEs originating from an initial host species can be retrieved after viral replication in another host species, sometimes at higher frequencies. Furthermore, we detected a strong increase in the number of integrations in a viral population for a TE absent from the hosts’ genomes, indicating that this TE has undergone intense transposition within the viral population. Finally, we provide evidence that many TEs found integrated in viral genomes (15/41) have been horizontally transferred in insects. Altogether, our results indicate that multiple large dsDNA viruses have the capacity to shuttle TEs in insects and they underline the potential of viruses to act as vectors of horizontal transfer of TEs. Furthermore, the finding that TEs can transpose between viral genomes of a viral species sets viruses as possible new niches in which TEs can persist and evolve.

Inferring Population Histories for Ancient Genomes Using Genome-Wide Genealogies

Tue, 15 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Ancient genomes anchor genealogies in directly observed historical genetic variation and contextualize ancestral lineages with archaeological insights into their geography and cultural associations. However, the majority of ancient genomes are of lower coverage and cannot be directly built into genealogies. Here, we present a fast and scalable method, Colate, the first approach for inferring ancestral relationships through time between low-coverage genomes without requiring phasing or imputation. Our approach leverages sharing patterns of mutations dated using a genealogy to infer coalescence rates. For deeply sequenced ancient genomes, we additionally introduce an extension of the Relate algorithm for joint inference of genealogies incorporating such genomes. Application to 278 present-day and 430 ancient DNA samples of >0.5x mean coverage allows us to identify dynamic population structure and directional gene flow between early farmer and European hunter-gatherer groups. We further show that the previously reported, but still unexplained, increase in the TCC/TTC mutation rate, which is strongest in West Eurasia today, was already present at similar strength and widespread in the Late Glacial Period ~10k−15k years ago, but is not observed in samples >30k years old. It is strongest in Neolithic farmers, and highly correlated with recent coalescence rates between other genomes and a 10,000-year-old Anatolian hunter-gatherer. This suggests gene-flow among ancient peoples postdating the last glacial maximum as widespread and localizes the driver of this mutational signal in both time and geography in that region. Our approach should be widely applicable in future for addressing other evolutionary questions, and in other species.

ggtreeExtra: Compact Visualization of Richly Annotated Phylogenetic Data

Mon, 07 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

We present the ggtreeExtra package for visualizing heterogeneous data with a phylogenetic tree in a circular or rectangular layout ( The package supports more data types and visualization methods than other tools. It supports using the grammar of graphics syntax to present data on a tree with richly annotated layers and allows evolutionary statistics inferred by commonly used software to be integrated and visualized with external data. GgtreeExtra is a universal tool for tree data visualization. It extends the applications of the phylogenetic tree in different disciplines by making more domain-specific data to be available to visualize and interpret in the evolutionary context.

Enhanced Mutation Rate, Relaxed Selection, and the “Domino Effect” are associated with Gene Loss in Blattabacterium, A Cockroach Endosymbiont

Wed, 26 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Intracellular endosymbionts have reduced genomes that progressively lose genes at a timescale of tens of million years. We previously reported that gene loss rate is linked to mutation rate in Blattabacterium, however, the mechanisms causing gene loss are not yet fully understood. Here, we carried out comparative genomic analyses on the complete genome sequences of a representative set of 67 Blattabacterium strains, with sizes ranging between 511 and 645 kb. We found that 200 of the 566 analyzed protein-coding genes were lost in at least one lineage of Blattabacterium, with the most extreme case being one gene that was lost independently in 24 lineages. We found evidence for three mechanisms influencing gene loss in Blattabacterium. First, gene loss rates were found to increase exponentially with the accumulation of substitutions. Second, genes involved in vitamin and amino acid metabolism experienced relaxed selection in Cryptocercus and Mastotermes, possibly triggered by their vertically inherited gut symbionts. Third, we found evidence of epistatic interactions among genes leading to a “domino effect” of gene loss within pathways. Our results highlight the complexity of the process of genome erosion in an endosymbiont.

Bacterial Evolutionary Precursors of Eukaryotic Copper–Zinc Superoxide Dismutases

Sat, 22 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Internalization of a bacteria by an archaeal cell expedited eukaryotic evolution. An important feature of the species that diversified into the great variety of eukaryotic life visible today was the ability to combat oxidative stress with a copper–zinc superoxide dismutase (CuZnSOD) enzyme activated by a specific, high-affinity copper chaperone. Adoption of a single protein interface that facilitates homodimerization and heterodimerization was essential; however, its evolution has been difficult to rationalize given the structural differences between bacterial and eukaryotic enzymes. In contrast, no consistent strategy for the maturation of periplasmic bacterial CuZnSODs has emerged. Here, 34 CuZnSODs are described that closely resemble the eukaryotic form but originate predominantly from aquatic bacteria. Crystal structures of a Bacteroidetes bacterium CuZnSOD portray both prokaryotic and eukaryotic characteristics and propose a mechanism for self-catalyzed disulfide maturation. Unification of a bacterial but eukaryotic-like CuZnSOD along with a ferredoxin-fold MXCXXC copper-binding domain within a single polypeptide created the advanced copper delivery system for CuZnSODs exemplified by the human copper chaperone for superoxide dismutase-1. The development of this system facilitated evolution of large and compartmentalized cells following endosymbiotic eukaryogenesis.

Adaptive Proteome Diversification by Nonsynonymous A-to-I RNA Editing in Coleoid Cephalopods

Sat, 22 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

RNA editing by the ADAR enzymes converts selected adenosines into inosines, biological mimics for guanosines. By doing so, it alters protein-coding sequences, resulting in novel protein products that diversify the proteome beyond its genomic blueprint. Recoding is exceptionally abundant in the neural tissues of coleoid cephalopods (octopuses, squids, and cuttlefishes), with an over-representation of nonsynonymous edits suggesting positive selection. However, the extent to which proteome diversification by recoding provides an adaptive advantage is not known. It was recently suggested that the role of evolutionarily conserved edits is to compensate for harmful genomic substitutions, and that there is no added value in having an editable codon as compared with a restoration of the preferred genomic allele. Here, we show that this hypothesis fails to explain the evolutionary dynamics of recoding sites in coleoids. Instead, our results indicate that a large fraction of the shared, strongly recoded, sites in coleoids have been selected for proteome diversification, meaning that the fitness of an editable A is higher than an uneditable A or a genomically encoded G.

Genetic Origins and Sex-Biased Admixture of the Huis

Sat, 22 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The Hui people are unique among Chinese ethnic minorities in that they speak the same language as Han Chinese (HAN) but practice Islam. However, as the second-largest minority group in China numbering well over 10 million, the Huis are under-represented in both global and regional genomic studies. Here, we present the first whole-genome sequencing effort of 234 Hui individuals (NXH) aged over 60 who have been living in Ningxia, where the Huis are mostly concentrated. NXH are genetically more similar to East Asian than to any other global populations. In particular, the genetic differentiation between NXH and HAN (FST = 0.0015) is only slightly larger than that between northern and southern HAN (FST = 0.0010), largely attributed to the western ancestry in NXH (∼10%). Highly differentiated functional variants between NXH and HAN were identified in genes associated with skin pigmentation (e.g., SLC24A5), facial morphology (e.g., EDAR), and lipid metabolism (e.g., ABCG8). The Huis are also distinct from other Muslim groups such as the Uyghurs (FST = 0.0187), especially, NXH derived much less western ancestry (∼10%) compared with the Uyghurs (∼50%). Modeling admixture history indicated that NXH experienced an episode of two-wave admixture. An ancient admixture occurred ∼1,025 years ago, reflecting the intensive west–east contacts during the late Tang Dynasty, and the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. A recent admixture occurred ∼500 years ago, corresponding to the Ming Dynasty. Notably, we identified considerable sex-biased admixture, that is, excess of western males and eastern females contributing to the NXH gene pool. The origins and the genomic diversity of the Hui people imply the complex history of contacts between western and eastern Eurasians.

A Bivalve Biomineralization Toolbox

Thu, 20 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Mollusc shells are a result of the deposition of crystalline and amorphous calcite catalyzed by enzymes and shell matrix proteins (SMP). Developing a detailed understanding of bivalve mollusc biomineralization pathways is complicated not only by the multiplicity of shell forms and microstructures in this class, but also by the evolution of associated proteins by domain co-option and domain shuffling. In spite of this, a minimal biomineralization toolbox comprising proteins and protein domains critical for shell production across species has been identified. Using a matched pair design to reduce experimental noise from inter-individual variation, combined with damage-repair experiments and a database of biomineralization SMPs derived from published works, proteins were identified that are likely to be involved in shell calcification. Eighteen new, shared proteins likely to be involved in the processes related to the calcification of shells were identified by the analysis of genes expressed during repair in Crassostrea gigas, Mytilus edulis, and Pecten maximus. Genes involved in ion transport were also identified as potentially involved in calcification either via the maintenance of cell acid–base balance or transport of critical ions to the extrapallial space, the site of shell assembly. These data expand the number of candidate biomineralization proteins in bivalve molluscs for future functional studies and define a minimal functional protein domain set required to produce solid microstructures from soluble calcium carbonate. This is important for understanding molluscan shell evolution, the likely impacts of environmental change on biomineralization processes, materials science, and biomimicry research.

Fundamental Identifiability Limits in Molecular Epidemiology

Wed, 19 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Viral phylogenies provide crucial information on the spread of infectious diseases, and many studies fit mathematical models to phylogenetic data to estimate epidemiological parameters such as the effective reproduction ratio (Re) over time. Such phylodynamic inferences often complement or even substitute for conventional surveillance data, particularly when sampling is poor or delayed. It remains generally unknown, however, how robust phylodynamic epidemiological inferences are, especially when there is uncertainty regarding pathogen prevalence and sampling intensity. Here, we use recently developed mathematical techniques to fully characterize the information that can possibly be extracted from serially collected viral phylogenetic data, in the context of the commonly used birth-death-sampling model. We show that for any candidate epidemiological scenario, there exists a myriad of alternative, markedly different, and yet plausible “congruent” scenarios that cannot be distinguished using phylogenetic data alone, no matter how large the data set. In the absence of strong constraints or rate priors across the entire study period, neither maximum-likelihood fitting nor Bayesian inference can reliably reconstruct the true epidemiological dynamics from phylogenetic data alone; rather, estimators can only converge to the “congruence class” of the true dynamics. We propose concrete and feasible strategies for making more robust epidemiological inferences from viral phylogenetic data.

The Evolution Pathway of Ammonia-Oxidizing Archaea Shaped by Major Geological Events

Sun, 16 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Primordial nitrification processes have been studied extensively using geochemical approaches, but the biological origination of nitrification remains unclear. Ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) are widely distributed nitrifiers and implement the rate-limiting step in nitrification. They are hypothesized to have been important players in the global nitrogen cycle in Earth’s early history. We performed systematic phylogenomic and marker gene analyses to elucidate the diversification timeline of AOA evolution. Our results suggested that the AOA ancestor experienced terrestrial geothermal environments at ∼1,165 Ma (1,928–880 Ma), and gradually evolved into mesophilic soil at ∼652 Ma (767–554 Ma) before diversifying into marine settings at ∼509 Ma (629–412 Ma) and later into shallow and deep oceans, respectively. Corroborated by geochemical evidence and modeling, the timing of key diversification nodes can be linked to the global magmatism and glaciation associated with the assembly and breakup of the supercontinent Rodinia, and the later oxygenation of the deep ocean. Results of this integrated study shed light on the geological forces that may have shaped the evolutionary pathways of the AOA, which played an important role in the ancient global nitrogen cycle.

Phylogenomic Subsampling and the Search for Phylogenetically Reliable Loci

Thu, 13 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Phylogenomic subsampling is a procedure by which small sets of loci are selected from large genome-scale data sets and used for phylogenetic inference. This step is often motivated by either computational limitations associated with the use of complex inference methods or as a means of testing the robustness of phylogenetic results by discarding loci that are deemed potentially misleading. Although many alternative methods of phylogenomic subsampling have been proposed, little effort has gone into comparing their behavior across different data sets. Here, I calculate multiple gene properties for a range of phylogenomic data sets spanning animal, fungal, and plant clades, uncovering a remarkable predictability in their patterns of covariance. I also show how these patterns provide a means for ordering loci by both their rate of evolution and their relative phylogenetic usefulness. This method of retrieving phylogenetically useful loci is found to be among the top performing when compared with alternative subsampling protocols. Relatively common approaches such as minimizing potential sources of systematic bias or increasing the clock-likeness of the data are found to fare worse than selecting loci at random. Likewise, the general utility of rate-based subsampling is found to be limited: loci evolving at both low and high rates are among the least effective, and even those evolving at optimal rates can still widely differ in usefulness. This study shows that many common subsampling approaches introduce unintended effects in off-target gene properties and proposes an alternative multivariate method that simultaneously optimizes phylogenetic signal while controlling for known sources of bias.

Comparative Analyses of Gibbon Centromeres Reveal Dynamic Genus-Specific Shifts in Repeat Composition

Thu, 13 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Centromeres are functionally conserved chromosomal loci essential for proper chromosome segregation during cell division, yet they show high sequence diversity across species. Despite their variation, a near universal feature of centromeres is the presence of repetitive sequences, such as DNA satellites and transposable elements (TEs). Because of their rapidly evolving karyotypes, gibbons represent a compelling model to investigate divergence of functional centromere sequences across short evolutionary timescales. In this study, we use ChIP-seq, RNA-seq, and fluorescence in situ hybridization to comprehensively investigate the centromeric repeat content of the four extant gibbon genera (Hoolock, Hylobates, Nomascus, and Siamang). In all gibbon genera, we find that CENP-A nucleosomes and the DNA-proteins that interface with the inner kinetochore preferentially bind retroelements of broad classes rather than satellite DNA. A previously identified gibbon-specific composite retrotransposon, LAVA, known to be expanded within the centromere regions of one gibbon genus (Hoolock), displays centromere- and species-specific sequence differences, potentially as a result of its co-option to a centromeric function. When dissecting centromere satellite composition, we discovered the presence of the retroelement-derived macrosatellite SST1 in multiple centromeres of Hoolock, whereas alpha-satellites represent the predominate satellite in the other genera, further suggesting an independent evolutionary trajectory for Hoolock centromeres. Finally, using de novo assembly of centromere sequences, we determined that transcripts originating from gibbon centromeres recapitulate the species-specific TE composition. Combined, our data reveal dynamic shifts in the repeat content that define gibbon centromeres and coincide with the extensive karyotypic diversity within this lineage.

Comparative Genome Analyses Highlight Transposon-Mediated Genome Expansion and the Evolutionary Architecture of 3D Genomic Folding in Cotton

Tue, 11 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Transposable element (TE) amplification has been recognized as a driving force mediating genome size expansion and evolution, but the consequences for shaping 3D genomic architecture remains largely unknown in plants. Here, we report reference-grade genome assemblies for three species of cotton ranging 3-fold in genome size, namely Gossypium rotundifolium (K2), G. arboreum (A2), and G. raimondii (D5), using Oxford Nanopore Technologies. Comparative genome analyses document the details of lineage-specific TE amplification contributing to the large genome size differences (K2, 2.44 Gb; A2, 1.62 Gb; D5, 750.19 Mb) and indicate relatively conserved gene content and synteny relationships among genomes. We found that approximately 17% of syntenic genes exhibit chromatin status change between active (“A”) and inactive (“B”) compartments, and TE amplification was associated with the increase of the proportion of A compartment in gene regions (∼7,000 genes) in K2 and A2 relative to D5. Only 42% of topologically associating domain (TAD) boundaries were conserved among the three genomes. Our data implicate recent amplification of TEs following the formation of lineage-specific TAD boundaries. This study sheds light on the role of transposon-mediated genome expansion in the evolution of higher-order chromatin structure in plants.

Resurrection of Ancestral Malate Dehydrogenases Reveals the Evolutionary History of Halobacterial Proteins: Deciphering Gene Trajectories and Changes in Biochemical Properties

Tue, 11 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Extreme halophilic Archaea thrive in high salt, where, through proteomic adaptation, they cope with the strong osmolarity and extreme ionic conditions of their environment. In spite of wide fundamental interest, however, studies providing insights into this adaptation are scarce, because of practical difficulties inherent to the purification and characterization of halophilic enzymes. In this work, we describe the evolutionary history of malate dehydrogenases (MalDH) within Halobacteria (a class of the Euryarchaeota phylum). We resurrected nine ancestors along the inferred halobacterial MalDH phylogeny, including the Last Common Ancestral MalDH of Halobacteria (LCAHa) and compared their biochemical properties with those of five modern halobacterial MalDHs. We monitored the stability of these various MalDHs, their oligomeric states and enzymatic properties, as a function of concentration for different salts in the solvent. We found that a variety of evolutionary processes, such as amino acid replacement, gene duplication, loss of MalDH gene and replacement owing to horizontal transfer resulted in significant differences in solubility, stability and catalytic properties between these enzymes in the three Halobacteriales, Haloferacales, and Natrialbales orders since the LCAHa MalDH. We also showed how a stability trade-off might favor the emergence of new properties during adaptation to diverse environmental conditions. Altogether, our results suggest a new view of halophilic protein adaptation in Archaea.

Modeling the Evolutionary Architectures of Transcribed Human Enhancer Sequences Reveals Distinct Origins, Functions, and Associations with Human Trait Variation

Mon, 10 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Despite the importance of gene regulatory enhancers in human biology and evolution, we lack a comprehensive model of enhancer evolution and function. This substantially limits our understanding of the genetic basis of species divergence and our ability to interpret the effects of noncoding variants on human traits.To explore enhancer sequence evolution and its relationship to regulatory function, we traced the evolutionary origins of transcribed human enhancer sequences with activity across diverse tissues and cellular contexts from the FANTOM5 consortium. The transcribed enhancers are enriched for sequences of a single evolutionary age (“simple” evolutionary architectures) compared with enhancers that are composites of sequences of multiple evolutionary ages (“complex” evolutionary architectures), likely indicating constraint against genomic rearrangements. Complex enhancers are older, more pleiotropic, and more active across species than simple enhancers. Genetic variants within complex enhancers are also less likely to associate with human traits and biochemical activity. Transposable-element-derived sequences (TEDS) have made diverse contributions to enhancers of both architectures; the majority of TEDS are found in enhancers with simple architectures, while a minority have remodeled older sequences to create complex architectures. Finally, we compare the evolutionary architectures of transcribed enhancers with histone-mark-defined enhancers.Our results reveal that most human transcribed enhancers are ancient sequences of a single age, and thus the evolution of most human enhancers was not driven by increases in evolutionary complexity over time. Our analyses further suggest that considering enhancer evolutionary histories provides context that can aid interpretation of the effects of variants on enhancer function. Based on these results, we propose a framework for analyzing enhancer evolutionary architecture.

Evidence for Selection in the Abundant Accessory Gene Content of a Prokaryote Pangenome

Sat, 08 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

A pangenome is the complete set of genes (core and accessory) present in a phylogenetic clade. We hypothesize that a pangenome’s accessory gene content is structured and maintained by selection. To test this hypothesis, we interrogated the genomes of 40 Pseudomonas species for statistically significant coincident (i.e., co-occurring/avoiding) gene patterns. We found that 86.7% of common accessory genes are involved in ≥1 coincident relationship. Further, genes that co-occur and/or avoid each other—but are not vertically inherited—are more likely to share functional categories, are more likely to be simultaneously transcribed, and are more likely to produce interacting proteins, than would be expected by chance. These results are not due to coincident genes being adjacent to one another on the chromosome. Together, these findings suggest that the accessory genome is structured into sets of genes that function together within a given strain. Given the similarity of the Pseudomonas pangenome with open pangenomes of other prokaryotic species, we speculate that these results are generalizable.

Sample Sequence Analysis Uncovers Recurrent Horizontal Transfers of Transposable Elements among Grasses

Sat, 08 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Limited genome resources are a bottleneck in the study of horizontal transfer (HT) of DNA in plants. To solve this issue, we tested the usefulness of low-depth sequencing data generated from 19 previously uncharacterized panicoid grasses for HT investigation. We initially searched for horizontally transferred LTR-retrotransposons by comparing the 19 sample sequences to 115 angiosperm genome sequences. Frequent HTs of LTR-retrotransposons were identified solely between panicoids and rice (Oryza sativa). We consequently focused on additional Oryza species and conducted a nontargeted investigation of HT involving the panicoid genus Echinochloa, which showed the most HTs in the first set of analyses. The comparison of nine Echinochloa samples and ten Oryza species identified recurrent HTs of diverse transposable element (TE) types at different points in Oryza history, but no confirmed cases of HT for sequences other than TEs. One case of HT was observed from one Echinochloa species into one Oryza species with overlapping geographic distributions. Variation among species and data sets highlights difficulties in identifying all HT, but our investigations showed that sample sequence analyses can reveal the importance of HT for the diversification of the TE repertoire of plants.

Locally Adaptive Inversions Modulate Genetic Variation at Different Geographic Scales in a Seaweed Fly

Sat, 08 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Across a species range, multiple sources of environmental heterogeneity, at both small and large scales, create complex landscapes of selection, which may challenge adaptation, particularly when gene flow is high. One key to multidimensional adaptation may reside in the heterogeneity of recombination along the genome. Structural variants, like chromosomal inversions, reduce recombination, increasing linkage disequilibrium among loci at a potentially massive scale. In this study, we examined how chromosomal inversions shape genetic variation across a species range and ask how their contribution to adaptation in the face of gene flow varies across geographic scales. We sampled the seaweed fly Coelopa frigida along a bioclimatic gradient stretching across 10° of latitude, a salinity gradient, and a range of heterogeneous, patchy habitats. We generated a chromosome-level genome assembly to analyze 1,446 low-coverage whole genomes collected along those gradients. We found several large nonrecombining genomic regions, including putative inversions. In contrast to the collinear regions, inversions and low-recombining regions differentiated populations more strongly, either along an ecogeographic cline or at a fine-grained scale. These genomic regions were associated with environmental factors and adaptive phenotypes, albeit with contrasting patterns. Altogether, our results highlight the importance of recombination in shaping adaptation to environmental heterogeneity at local and large scales.

Resource Uptake and the Evolution of Moderately Efficient Enzymes

Sat, 08 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Enzymes speed up reactions that would otherwise be too slow to sustain the metabolism of selfreplicators. Yet, most enzymes seem only moderately efficient, exhibiting kinetic parameters orders of magnitude lower than their expected physically achievable maxima and spanning over surprisingly large ranges of values. Here, we question how these parameters evolve using a mechanistic model where enzyme efficiency is a key component of individual competition for resources. We show that kinetic parameters are under strong directional selection only up to a point, above which enzymes appear to evolve under near-neutrality, thereby confirming the qualitative observation of other modeling approaches. While the existence of a large fitness plateau could potentially explain the extensive variation in enzyme features reported, we show using a population genetics model that such a widespread distribution is an unlikely outcome of evolution on a common landscape, as mutation–selection–drift balance occupy a narrow area even when very moderate biases towards lower efficiency are considered. Instead, differences in the evolutionary context encountered by each enzyme should be involved, such that each evolves on an individual, unique landscape. Our results point to drift and effective population size playing an important role, along with the kinetics of nutrient transporters, the tolerance to high concentrations of intermediate metabolites, and the reversibility of reactions. Enzyme concentration also shapes selection on kinetic parameters, but we show that the joint evolution of concentration and efficiency does not yield extensive variance in evolutionary outcomes when documented costs to protein expression are applied.

Mammals with Small Populations Do Not Exhibit Larger Genomes

Thu, 06 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Evolutionary Dynamics of the OR Gene Repertoire in Teleost Fishes: Evidence of an Association with Changes in Olfactory Epithelium Shape

Wed, 05 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Teleost fishes perceive their environment through a range of sensory modalities, among which olfaction often plays an important role. Richness of the olfactory repertoire depends on the diversity of receptors coded by homologous genes classified into four families: OR, TAAR, VR1, and VR2. Herein, we focus on the OR gene repertoire. While independent large contractions of the OR gene repertoire associated with ecological transitions have been found in mammals, little is known about the diversity of the OR gene repertoire and its evolution in teleost fishes, a group that includes more than 34,000 living species. We analyzed genomes of 163 species representing diversity in this large group. We found a large range of variation in the number of functional OR genes, from 15 in the Broad-nose Pipefish Syngnathus typhle and the Ocean Sunfish Mola mola, to 429 in the Zig-zag Eel Mastacembelus armatus. The number of OR genes was higher in species when a multilamellar olfactory rosette was present. Moreover, the number of lamellae was correlated with the richness of the OR gene repertoire. While a slow and balanced birth-and-death process generally drives the evolution of the OR gene repertoire, we inferred several episodes of high rates of gene loss, sometimes followed by large gains in the number of OR genes. These gains coincide with morphological changes of the olfactory organ and suggest a strong functional association between changes in the morphology and the evolution of the OR gene repertoire.

Rapid Parallel Adaptation to Anthropogenic Heavy Metal Pollution

Wed, 05 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The impact of human-mediated environmental change on the evolutionary trajectories of wild organisms is poorly understood. In particular, capacity of species to adapt rapidly (in hundreds of generations or less), reproducibly and predictably to extreme environmental change is unclear. Silene uniflora is predominantly a coastal species, but it has also colonized isolated, disused mines with phytotoxic, zinc-contaminated soils. To test whether rapid, parallel adaptation to anthropogenic pollution has taken place, we used reduced representation sequencing (ddRAD) to reconstruct the evolutionary history of geographically proximate mine and coastal population pairs and found largely independent colonization of mines from different coastal sites. Furthermore, our results show that parallel evolution of zinc tolerance has occurred without gene flow spreading adaptive alleles between mine populations. In genomic regions where signatures of selection were detected across multiple mine-coast pairs, we identified genes with functions linked to physiological differences between the putative ecotypes, although genetic differentiation at specific loci is only partially shared between mine populations. Our results are consistent with a complex, polygenic genetic architecture underpinning rapid adaptation. This shows that even under a scenario of strong selection and rapid adaptation, evolutionary responses to human activities (and other environmental challenges) may be idiosyncratic at the genetic level and, therefore, difficult to predict from genomic data.

De Novo Mutation Rate Variation and Its Determinants in Chlamydomonas

Wed, 05 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

De novo mutations are central for evolution, since they provide the raw material for natural selection by regenerating genetic variation. However, studying de novo mutations is challenging and is generally restricted to model species, so we have a limited understanding of the evolution of the mutation rate and spectrum between closely related species. Here, we present a mutation accumulation (MA) experiment to study de novo mutation in the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas incerta and perform comparative analyses with its closest known relative, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Using whole-genome sequencing data, we estimate that the median single nucleotide mutation (SNM) rate in C. incerta is μ = 7.6 × 10−10, and is highly variable between MA lines, ranging from μ = 0.35 × 10−10 to μ = 131.7 × 10−10. The SNM rate is strongly positively correlated with the mutation rate for insertions and deletions between lines (r >0.97). We infer that the genomic factors associated with variation in the mutation rate are similar to those in C. reinhardtii, allowing for cross-prediction between species. Among these genomic factors, sequence context and complexity are more important than GC content. With the exception of a remarkably high C→T bias, the SNM spectrum differs markedly between the two Chlamydomonas species. Our results suggest that similar genomic and biological characteristics may result in a similar mutation rate in the two species, whereas the SNM spectrum has more freedom to diverge.

Vulture Genomes Reveal Molecular Adaptations Underlying Obligate Scavenging and Low Levels of Genetic Diversity

Tue, 04 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Obligate scavenging on the dead and decaying animal matter is a rare dietary specialization that in extant vertebrates is restricted to vultures. These birds perform essential ecological services, yet many vulture species have undergone recent steep population declines and are now endangered. To test for molecular adaptations underlying obligate scavenging in vultures, and to assess whether genomic features might have contributed to their population declines, we generated high-quality genomes of the Himalayan and bearded vultures, representing both independent origins of scavenging within the Accipitridae, alongside a sister taxon, the upland buzzard. By comparing our data to published sequences from other birds, we show that the evolution of obligate scavenging in vultures has been accompanied by widespread positive selection acting on genes underlying gastric acid production, and immunity. Moreover, we find evidence of parallel molecular evolution, with amino acid replacements shared among divergent lineages of these scavengers. Our genome-wide screens also reveal that both the Himalayan and bearded vultures exhibit low levels of genetic diversity, equating to around a half of the mean genetic diversity of other bird genomes examined. However, demographic reconstructions indicate that population declines began at around the Last Glacial Maximum, predating the well-documented dramatic declines of the past three decades. Taken together, our genomic analyses imply that vultures harbor unique adaptations for processing carrion, but that modern populations are genetically depauperate and thus especially vulnerable to further genetic erosion through anthropogenic activities.

Structural Variants Selected during Yak Domestication Inferred from Long-Read Whole-Genome Sequencing

Tue, 04 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Structural variants (SVs) represent an important genetic resource for both natural and artificial selection. Here we present a chromosome-scale reference genome for domestic yak (Bos grunniens) that has longer contigs and scaffolds (N50 44.72 and 114.39 Mb, respectively) than reported for any other ruminant genome. We further obtained long-read resequencing data for 6 wild and 23 domestic yaks and constructed a genetic SV map of 372,220 SVs that covers the geographic range of the yaks. The majority of the SVs contains repetitive sequences and several are in or near genes. By comparing SVs in domestic and wild yaks, we identified genes that are predominantly related to the nervous system, behavior, immunity, and reproduction and may have been targeted by artificial selection during yak domestication. These findings provide new insights in the domestication of animals living at high altitude and highlight the importance of SVs in animal domestication.

Gene Duplication and Loss of AANAT in Mammals Driven by Rhythmic Adaptations

Mon, 03 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase (AANAT) plays a crucial role in synchronizing internal biological functions to circadian and circannual changes. Generally speaking, only one copy of AANAT gene has been found in mammals, however, three independent duplications of this gene were detected in several cetartiodactyl lineages (i.e., Suidae, Hippopotamidae, and Pecora), which originated in the middle Eocene, a geological period characterized with the increased climate seasonality. Lineage-specific expansions of AANAT and the associated functional enhancement in these lineages strongly suggest an improvement in regulating photoperiodic response to adapt to seasonal climate changes. In contrast, independent inactivating mutations or deletions of the AANAT locus were identified in the four pineal-deficient clades (cetaceans, sirenians, xenarthrans, and pangolins). Loss of AANAT function in cetaceans and sirenians could disrupt the sleep-promoting effects of pineal melatonin, which might contribute to increasing wakefulness, adapting these clades to underwater sleep. The absence of AANAT and pineal glands in xenarthrans and pangolins may be associated with their body temperature maintenance. The present work demonstrates a far more complex and intriguing evolutionary pattern and functional diversity of mammalian AANAT genes than previously thought and provides further evidence for understanding AANAT evolution as driven by rhythmic adaptations in mammals.

Elephant Genomes Reveal Accelerated Evolution in Mechanisms Underlying Disease Defenses

Mon, 03 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Disease susceptibility and resistance are important factors for the conservation of endangered species, including elephants. We analyzed pathology data from 26 zoos and report that Asian elephants have increased neoplasia and malignancy prevalence compared with African bush elephants. This is consistent with observed higher susceptibility to tuberculosis and elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) in Asian elephants. To investigate genetic mechanisms underlying disease resistance, including differential responses between species, among other elephant traits, we sequenced multiple elephant genomes. We report a draft assembly for an Asian elephant, and defined 862 and 1,017 conserved potential regulatory elements in Asian and African bush elephants, respectively. In the genomes of both elephant species, conserved elements were significantly enriched with genes differentially expressed between the species. In Asian elephants, these putative regulatory regions were involved in immunity pathways including tumor-necrosis factor, which plays an important role in EEHV response. Genomic sequences of African bush, forest, and Asian elephant genomes revealed extensive sequence conservation at TP53 retrogene loci across three species, which may be related to TP53 functionality in elephant cancer resistance. Positive selection scans revealed outlier genes related to additional elephant traits. Our study suggests that gene regulation plays an important role in the differential inflammatory response of Asian and African elephants, leading to increased infectious disease and cancer susceptibility in Asian elephants. These genomic discoveries can inform future functional and translational studies aimed at identifying effective treatment approaches for ill elephants, which may improve conservation.

Molecular Parallelism Underlies Convergent Highland Adaptation of Maize Landraces

Tue, 27 Apr 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Convergent phenotypic evolution provides some of the strongest evidence for adaptation. However, the extent to which recurrent phenotypic adaptation has arisen via parallelism at the molecular level remains unresolved, as does the evolutionary origin of alleles underlying such adaptation. Here, we investigate genetic mechanisms of convergent highland adaptation in maize landrace populations and evaluate the genetic sources of recurrently selected alleles. Population branch excess statistics reveal substantial evidence of parallel adaptation at the level of individual single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs), genes, and pathways in four independent highland maize populations. The majority of convergently selected SNPs originated via migration from a single population, most likely in the Mesoamerican highlands, while standing variation introduced by ancient gene flow was also a contributor. Polygenic adaptation analyses of quantitative traits reveal that alleles affecting flowering time are significantly associated with elevation, indicating the flowering time pathway was targeted by highland adaptation. In addition, repeatedly selected genes were significantly enriched in the flowering time pathway, indicating their significance in adapting to highland conditions. Overall, our study system represents a promising model to study convergent evolution in plants with potential applications to crop adaptation across environmental gradients.

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

Tue, 27 Apr 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Some sexual traits, including genitalia, have undergone coevolutionary diversification toward exaggerated states in both sexes among closely related species, but the underlying genetic mechanisms that allow correlated character evolution between the sexes are poorly understood. Here, we studied interspecific differences in gene expression timing profiles involved in the correlated evolution of corresponding male and female genital parts in three species of ground beetle in Carabus (Ohomopterus). The male and female genital parts maintain morphological matching, whereas large interspecific variation in genital part size has occurred in the genital coevolution between the sexes toward exaggeration. We analyzed differences in gene expression involved in the interspecific differences in genital morphology using whole transcriptome data from genital tissues during genital morphogenesis. We found that the gene expression variance attributed to sex was negligible for the majority of differentially expressed genes, thus exhibiting sex-concordant expression, although large variances were attributed to stage and species differences. For each sex, we obtained co-expression gene networks and hub genes from differentially expressed genes between species that might be involved in interspecific differences in genital morphology. These gene networks were common to both sexes, and both sex-discordant and sex-concordant gene expression were likely involved in species-specific genital morphology. In particular, the gene expression related to exaggerated genital size showed no significant intersexual differences, implying that the genital sizes in both sexes are controlled by the same gene network with sex-concordant expression patterns, thereby facilitating the coevolution of exaggerated genitalia between the sexes while maintaining intersexual matching.

Asexuality Associated with Marked Genomic Expansion of Tandemly Repeated rRNA and Histone Genes

Thu, 22 Apr 2021 00:00:00 GMT

How does asexual reproduction influence genome evolution? Although is it clear that genomic structural variation is common and important in natural populations, we know very little about how one of the most fundamental of eukaryotic traits—mode of genomic inheritance—influences genome structure. We address this question with the New Zealand freshwater snail Potamopyrgus antipodarum, which features multiple separately derived obligately asexual lineages that coexist and compete with otherwise similar sexual lineages. We used whole-genome sequencing reads from a diverse set of sexual and asexual individuals to analyze genomic abundance of a critically important gene family, rDNA (the genes encoding rRNAs), that is notable for dynamic and variable copy number. Our genomic survey of rDNA in P. antipodarum revealed two striking results. First, the core histone and 5S rRNA genes occur between tandem copies of the 18S–5.8S–28S gene cluster, a unique architecture for these crucial gene families. Second, asexual P. antipodarum harbor dramatically more rDNA–histone copies than sexuals, which we validated through molecular and cytogenetic analysis. The repeated expansion of this genomic region in asexual P. antipodarum lineages following distinct transitions to asexuality represents a dramatic genome structural change associated with asexual reproduction—with potential functional consequences related to the loss of sexual reproduction.

Genetic Architecture Underlying Nascent Speciation—The Evolution of Eurasian Pigs under Domestication

Wed, 21 Apr 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Speciation is a process whereby the evolution of reproductive barriers leads to isolated species. Although many studies have addressed large-effect genetic footprints in the advanced stages of speciation, the genetics of reproductive isolation in nascent stage of speciation remains unclear. Here, we show that pig domestication offers an interesting model for studying the early stages of speciation in great details. Pig breeds have not evolved the large X-effect of hybrid incompatibility commonly observed between “good species.” Instead, deleterious epistatic interactions among multiple autosomal loci are common. These weak Dobzhansky–Muller incompatibilities confer partial hybrid inviability with sex biases in crosses between European and East Asian domestic pigs. The genomic incompatibility is enriched in pathways for angiogenesis, androgen receptor signaling and immunity, with an observation of many highly differentiated cis-regulatory variants. Our study suggests that partial hybrid inviability caused by pervasive but weak interactions among autosomal loci may be a hallmark of nascent speciation in mammals.

The Evolution of Calcification in Reef-Building Corals

Mon, 19 Apr 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Corals build the structural foundation of coral reefs, one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on our planet. Although the process of coral calcification that allows corals to build these immense structures has been extensively investigated, we still know little about the evolutionary processes that allowed the soft-bodied ancestor of corals to become the ecosystem builders they are today. Using a combination of phylogenomics, proteomics, and immunohistochemistry, we show that scleractinian corals likely acquired the ability to calcify sometime between ∼308 and ∼265 Ma through a combination of lineage-specific gene duplications and the co-option of existing genes to the calcification process. Our results suggest that coral calcification did not require extensive evolutionary changes, but rather few coral-specific gene duplications and a series of small, gradual optimizations of ancestral proteins and their co-option to the calcification process.

Novelty and Convergence in Adaptation to Whole Genome Duplication

Tue, 30 Mar 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Whole genome duplication (WGD) can promote adaptation but is disruptive to conserved processes, especially meiosis. Studies in Arabidopsis arenosa revealed a coordinated evolutionary response to WGD involving interacting proteins controlling meiotic crossovers, which are minimized in an autotetraploid (within-species polyploid) to avoid missegregation. Here, we test whether this surprising flexibility of a conserved essential process, meiosis, is recapitulated in an independent WGD system, Cardamine amara, 17 My diverged from A. arenosa. We assess meiotic stability and perform population-based scans for positive selection, contrasting the genomic response to WGD in C. amara with that of A. arenosa. We found in C. amara the strongest selection signals at genes with predicted functions thought important to adaptation to WGD: meiosis, chromosome remodeling, cell cycle, and ion transport. However, genomic responses to WGD in the two species differ: minimal ortholog-level convergence emerged, with none of the meiosis genes found in A. arenosa exhibiting strong signal in C. amara. This is consistent with our observations of lower meiotic stability and occasional clonal spreading in diploid C. amara, suggesting that nascent C. amara autotetraploid lineages were preadapted by their diploid lifestyle to survive while enduring reduced meiotic fidelity. However, in contrast to a lack of ortholog convergence, we see process-level and network convergence in DNA management, chromosome organization, stress signaling, and ion homeostasis processes. This gives the first insight into the salient adaptations required to meet the challenges of a WGD state and shows that autopolyploids can utilize multiple evolutionary trajectories to adapt to WGD.

Enhancer Pleiotropy, Gene Expression, and the Architecture of Human Enhancer–Gene Interactions

Mon, 22 Mar 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Enhancers are often studied as noncoding regulatory elements that modulate the precise spatiotemporal expression of genes in a highly tissue-specific manner. This paradigm has been challenged by recent evidence of individual enhancers acting in multiple tissues or developmental contexts. However, the frequency of these enhancers with high degrees of “pleiotropy” out of all putative enhancers is not well understood. Consequently, it is unclear how the variation of enhancer pleiotropy corresponds to the variation in expression breadth of target genes. Here, we use multi-tissue chromatin maps from diverse human tissues to investigate the enhancer–gene interaction architecture while accounting for 1) the distribution of enhancer pleiotropy, 2) the variations of regulatory links from enhancers to target genes, and 3) the expression breadth of target genes. We show that most enhancers are tissue-specific and that highly pleiotropy enhancers account for <1% of all putative regulatory sequences in the human genome. Notably, several genomic features are indicative of increasing enhancer pleiotropy, including longer sequence length, greater number of links to genes, increasing abundance and diversity of encoded transcription factor motifs, and stronger evolutionary conservation. Intriguingly, the number of enhancers per gene remains remarkably consistent for all genes (∼14). However, enhancer pleiotropy does not directly translate to the expression breadth of target genes. We further present a series of Gaussian Mixture Models to represent this organization architecture. Consequently, we demonstrate that a modest trend of more pleiotropic enhancers targeting more broadly expressed genes can generate the observed diversity of expression breadths in the human genome.

The Antibiotic Dosage of Fastest Resistance Evolution: Gene Amplifications Underpinning the Inverted-U

Mon, 08 Mar 2021 00:00:00 GMT

To determine the dosage at which antibiotic resistance evolution is most rapid, we treated Escherichia coli in vitro, deploying the antibiotic erythromycin at dosages ranging from zero to high. Adaptation was fastest just below erythromycin’s minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) and genotype-phenotype correlations determined from whole genome sequencing revealed the molecular basis: simultaneous selection for copy number variation in three resistance mechanisms which exhibited an “inverted-U” pattern of dose-dependence, as did several insertion sequences and an integron. Many genes did not conform to this pattern, however, reflecting changes in selection as dose increased: putative media adaptation polymorphisms at zero antibiotic dosage gave way to drug target (ribosomal RNA operon) amplification at mid dosages whereas prophage-mediated drug efflux amplifications dominated at the highest dosages. All treatments exhibited E. coli increases in the copy number of efflux operons acrAB and emrE at rates that correlated with increases in population density. For strains where the inverted-U was no longer observed following the genetic manipulation of acrAB, it could be recovered by prolonging the antibiotic treatment at subMIC dosages.

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

Thu, 04 Mar 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Dietary adaptation is a major feature of phenotypic and ecological diversification, yet the genetic basis of dietary shifts is poorly understood. Among mammals, Neotropical leaf-nosed bats (family Phyllostomidae) show unmatched diversity in diet; from a putative insectivorous ancestor, phyllostomids have radiated to specialize on diverse food sources including blood, nectar, and fruit. To assess whether dietary diversification in this group was accompanied by molecular adaptations for changing metabolic demands, we sequenced 89 transcriptomes across 58 species and combined these with published data to compare ∼13,000 protein coding genes across 66 species. We tested for positive selection on focal lineages, including those inferred to have undergone dietary shifts. Unexpectedly, we found a broad signature of positive selection in the ancestral phyllostomid branch, spanning genes implicated in the metabolism of all major macronutrients, yet few positively selected genes at the inferred switch to plantivory. Branches corresponding to blood- and nectar-based diets showed selection in loci underpinning nitrogenous waste excretion and glycolysis, respectively. Intriguingly, patterns of selection in metabolism genes were mirrored by those in loci implicated in craniofacial remodeling, a trait previously linked to phyllostomid dietary specialization. Finally, we show that the null model of the widely-used branch-site test is likely to be misspecified, with the implication that the test is too conservative and probably under-reports true cases of positive selection. Our findings point to a complex picture of adaptive radiation, in which the evolution of new dietary specializations has been facilitated by early adaptations combined with the generation of new genetic variation.

Ecological Specialization and Evolutionary Reticulation in Extant Hyaenidae

Wed, 24 Feb 2021 00:00:00 GMT

During the Miocene, Hyaenidae was a highly diverse family of Carnivora that has since been severely reduced to four species: the bone-cracking spotted, striped, and brown hyenas, and the specialized insectivorous aardwolf. Previous studies investigated the evolutionary histories of the spotted and brown hyenas, but little is known about the remaining two species. Moreover, the genomic underpinnings of scavenging and insectivory, defining traits of the extant species, remain elusive. Here, we generated an aardwolf genome and analyzed it together with the remaining three species to reveal their evolutionary relationships, genomic underpinnings of their scavenging and insectivorous lifestyles, and their respective genetic diversities and demographic histories. High levels of phylogenetic discordance suggest gene flow between the aardwolf lineage and the ancestral brown/striped hyena lineage. Genes related to immunity and digestion in the bone-cracking hyenas and craniofacial development in the aardwolf showed the strongest signals of selection, suggesting putative key adaptations to carrion and termite feeding, respectively. A family-wide expansion in olfactory receptor genes suggests that an acute sense of smell was a key early adaptation. Finally, we report very low levels of genetic diversity within the brown and striped hyenas despite no signs of inbreeding, putatively linked to their similarly slow decline in effective population size over the last ∼2 million years. High levels of genetic diversity and more stable population sizes through time are seen in the spotted hyena and aardwolf. Taken together, our findings highlight how ecological specialization can impact the evolutionary history, demographics, and adaptive genetic changes of an evolutionary lineage.

Expansion and Accelerated Evolution of 9-Exon Odorant Receptors in Polistes Paper Wasps

Tue, 02 Feb 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Independent origins of sociality in bees and ants are associated with independent expansions of particular odorant receptor (OR) gene subfamilies. In ants, one clade within the OR gene family, the 9-exon subfamily, has dramatically expanded. These receptors detect cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs), key social signaling molecules in insects. It is unclear to what extent 9-exon OR subfamily expansion is associated with the independent evolution of sociality across Hymenoptera, warranting studies of taxa with independently derived social behavior. Here, we describe OR gene family evolution in the northern paper wasp, Polistes fuscatus, and compare it to four additional paper wasp species spanning ∼40 million years of evolutionary divergence. We find 200 putatively functional OR genes in P. fuscatus, matching predictions from neuroanatomy, and more than half of these are in the 9-exon subfamily. Most OR gene expansions are tandemly arrayed at orthologous loci in Polistes genomes, and microsynteny analysis shows species-specific gain and loss of 9-exon ORs within tandem arrays. There is evidence of episodic positive diversifying selection shaping ORs in expanded subfamilies. Values of omega (dN/dS) are higher among 9-exon ORs compared to other OR subfamilies. Within the Polistes OR gene tree, branches in the 9-exon OR clade experience relaxed negative (relaxed purifying) selection relative to other branches in the tree. Patterns of OR evolution within Polistes are consistent with 9-exon OR function in CHC perception by combinatorial coding, with both natural selection and neutral drift contributing to interspecies differences in gene copy number and sequence.

Complexity of the simplest species tree problem

Mon, 25 Jan 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The multispecies coalescent model provides a natural framework for species tree estimation accounting for gene-tree conflicts. Although a number of species tree methods under the multispecies coalescent have been suggested and evaluated using simulation, their statistical properties remain poorly understood. Here, we use mathematical analysis aided by computer simulation to examine the identifiability, consistency, and efficiency of different species tree methods in the case of three species and three sequences under the molecular clock. We consider four major species-tree methods including concatenation, two-step, independent-sites maximum likelihood, and maximum likelihood. We develop approximations that predict that the probit transform of the species tree estimation error decreases linearly with the square root of the number of loci. Even in this simplest case, major differences exist among the methods. Full-likelihood methods are considerably more efficient than summary methods such as concatenation and two-step. They also provide estimates of important parameters such as species divergence times and ancestral population sizes,whereas these parameters are not identifiable by summary methods. Our results highlight the need to improve the statistical efficiency of summary methods and the computational efficiency of full likelihood methods of species tree estimation.

New Insights and Consequences of the Transatlantic Slave Trade on African Ancestry in the Americas

Tue, 01 Sep 2020 00:00:00 GMT

The Transatlantic Slave Trade transported more than 9 million Africans to the Americas between the early 16th and the mid-19th centuries (Gouveia et al. 2020). In the past decade, scientists have utilized extensive genomic analyses to better understand the patterns of African–American ancestry in today’s populations, and help reconstruct the past by taking into consideration the complex geographical and geopolitical history of the Slave Trade.

GBE | Most Read

Genome Biology & Evolution

Erratum to: The Transposable Element Environment of Human Genes Differs According to Their Duplication Status and Essentiality

Sat, 11 Sep 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Genome Biology and Evolution, Volume 13, Issue 5,

Synonymous but Not Equal: A Special Section and Virtual Issue on Phenotypic Effects of Synonymous Mutations

Wed, 01 Sep 2021 00:00:00 GMT

It has been 50 years since Francis Crick, Leslie Barnett, Sydney Brenner, and Richard Watts-Tobin first deduced the nature of the genetic code, revealing how a gene’s nucleotide sequence is related to the encoded protein’s amino acid sequence. Essential to cracking the code was the premise that the genetic code is degenerate: as there are 64 possible codons (i.e., nucleotide triplets) and only 20 standard amino acids, some amino acids must be specified by multiple codons. One consequence of this degeneracy is that some mutations alter DNA sequences without changing the underlying protein sequence. Although it was long believed that these “synonymous” mutations were effectively neutral, half a century later, genome-wide analyses have begun to reveal both the evolutionary forces that shape synonymous mutations as well as their potential phenotypic effects. In a new Special Section titled “Phenotypic Effects of Synonymous Mutations,” guest editors Stéphanie Bedhomme and Ignacio Bravo have gathered four articles that compile some of the mechanisms through which synonymous mutations can result in phenotypic effects. In addition, an accompanying virtual issue highlights an additional eight articles on this topic published in “Genome Biology and Evolution” over the past three years, providing an even broader look at recent insights in this growing field.

nf-LO: A Scalable, Containerized Workflow for Genome-to-Genome Lift Over

Thu, 12 Aug 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The increasing availability of new genome assemblies often comes with a paucity of associated genomic annotations, limiting the range of studies that can be performed. A common workaround is to lift over annotations from better annotated genomes. However, generating the files required to perform a lift over is computationally and labor intensive and only a limited number are currently publicly available.Here we present nf-LO (nextflow-LiftOver), a containerized and scalable Nextflow pipeline that enables lift overs within and between any species for which assemblies are available. nf-LO will consequently facilitate data interpretation across a broad range of genomic studies.

Hawaiian Nysius Insects Rely on an Obligate Symbiont with a Reduced Genome That Retains a Discrete Nutritional Profile to Match Their Plant Seed Diet

Thu, 12 Aug 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Seed-feeding Nysius insects (Hemiptera: Lygaeidae) have a symbiotic association with distinct intracellular bacteria, “Candidatus Schneideria nysicola” (Gammaproteobacteria). Although many other hemipteran insect groups generally rely on bacterial symbionts that synthesize all ten essential amino acids lacking in their plant sap diets, the nutritional role of Schneideria in Nysius hosts that specialize on a more nutritionally complete seed-based diet has remained unknown. To determine the nutritional and functional capabilities of Schneideria, we sequenced the complete Schneideria genomes from three distantly related endemic Hawaiian Nysius seed bug species. The complete Schneideria genomes are highly conserved and perfectly syntenic among Hawaiian Nysius host species. Each circular chromosome is ∼0.57 Mb in size and encodes 537 protein-coding genes. They further exhibit a strong A + T nucleotide substitution bias with an average G + C nucleotide content of 29%. The predicted nutritional contribution of Schneideria includes four B vitamins and five of the ten essential amino acids that likely match its hosts’ seed-based diet. Disrupted and degraded genes in Schneideria suggests that Hawaiian lineages are undergoing continued gene losses observed in the smaller genomes of the other more ancient hemipteran symbionts.

Chromosome-Level Genome Assembly of Chinese Sucker (Myxocyprinus asiaticus) Reveals Strongly Conserved Synteny Following a Catostomid-Specific Whole-Genome Duplication

Thu, 12 Aug 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Fishes of the family Catostomidae (“suckers”; Teleostei: Cypriniformes) are hypothesized to have undergone an allopolyploidy event approximately 60 Ma. However, genomic evidence has previously been unavailable to assess this hypothesis. We sequenced and assembled the first chromosome-level catostomid genome, Chinese sucker (Myxocyprinus asiaticus), and present clear evidence of a catostomid-specific whole-genome duplication (WGD) event (“Cat-4R”). Our results reveal remarkably strong, conserved synteny since this duplication event, as well as between Myxocyprinus and an unduplicated outgroup, zebrafish (Danio rerio). Gene content and repetitive elements are also approximately evenly distributed across homeologous chromosomes, suggesting that both subgenomes retain some function, with no obvious bias in gene fractionation or subgenome dominance. The Cat-4R duplication provides another independent example of genome evolution following WGD in animals, in this case at the extreme end of conserved genome architecture over at least 25.2 Myr since the duplication. The M. asiaticus genome is a useful resource for researchers interested in understanding genome evolution following WGD in animals.

Metabolic Adaptations to Marine Environments: Molecular Diversity and Evolution of Ovothiol Biosynthesis in Bacteria

Sat, 17 Jul 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Ovothiols are sulfur-containing amino acids synthesized by marine invertebrates, protozoans, and bacteria. They act as pleiotropic molecules in signaling and protection against oxidative stress. The discovery of ovothiol biosynthetic enzymes, sulfoxide synthase OvoA and β-lyase OvoB, paves the way for a systematic investigation of ovothiol distribution and molecular diversification in nature. In this work, we conducted genomic and metagenomics data mining to investigate the distribution and diversification of ovothiol biosynthetic enzymes in Bacteria. We identified the bacteria endowed with this secondary metabolic pathway, described their taxonomy, habitat and biotic interactions in order to provide insight into their adaptation to specific environments. We report that OvoA and OvoB are mostly encountered in marine aerobic Proteobacteria, some of them establishing symbiotic or parasitic relationships with other organisms. We identified a horizontal gene transfer event of OvoB from Bacteroidetes living in symbiosis with Hydrozoa. Our search within the Ocean Gene Atlas revealed the occurrence of ovothiol biosynthetic genes in Proteobacteria living in a wide range of pelagic and highly oxygenated environments. Finally, we tracked the evolutionary history of ovothiol biosynthesis from marine bacteria to unicellular eukaryotes and metazoans. Our analysis provides new conceptual elements to unravel the evolutionary and ecological significance of ovothiol biosynthesis.

Effects of Synonymous Mutations beyond Codon Bias: The Evidence for Adaptive Synonymous Substitutions from Microbial Evolution Experiments

Wed, 16 Jun 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Synonymous mutations are often assumed to be neutral with respect to fitness because they do not alter the encoded amino acid and so cannot be “seen” by natural selection. Yet a growing body of evidence suggests that synonymous mutations can have fitness effects that drive adaptive evolution through their impacts on gene expression and protein folding. Here, we review what microbial experiments have taught us about the contribution of synonymous mutations to adaptation. A survey of site-directed mutagenesis experiments reveals the distributions of fitness effects for nonsynonymous and synonymous mutations are more similar, especially for beneficial mutations, than expected if all synonymous mutations were neutral, suggesting they should drive adaptive evolution more often than is typically observed. A review of experimental evolution studies where synonymous mutations have contributed to adaptation shows they can impact fitness through a range of mechanisms including the creation of illicit RNA polymerase binding sites impacting transcription and changes to mRNA folding stability that modulate translation. We suggest that clonal interference in evolving microbial populations may be the reason synonymous mutations play a smaller role in adaptive evolution than expected based on their observed fitness effects. We finish by discussing the impacts of falsely assuming synonymous mutations are neutral and discuss directions for future work exploring the role of synonymous mutations in adaptive evolution.

Transcription, mRNA Export, and Immune Evasion Shape the Codon Usage of Viruses

Fri, 14 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

The nucleotide composition, dinucleotide composition, and codon usage of many viruses differ from their hosts. These differences arise because viruses are subject to unique mutation and selection pressures that do not apply to host genomes; however, the molecular mechanisms that underlie these evolutionary forces are unclear. Here, we analyzed the patterns of codon usage in 1,520 vertebrate-infecting viruses, focusing on parameters known to be under selection and associated with gene regulation. We find that GC content, dinucleotide content, and splicing and m6A modification-related sequence motifs are associated with the type of genetic material (DNA or RNA), strandedness, and replication compartment of viruses. In an experimental follow-up, we find that the effects of GC content on gene expression depend on whether the genetic material is delivered to the cell as DNA or mRNA, whether it is transcribed by endogenous or exogenous RNA polymerase, and whether transcription takes place in the nucleus or cytoplasm. Our results suggest that viral codon usage cannot be explained by a simple adaptation to the codon usage of the host—instead, it reflects the combination of multiple selective and mutational pressures, including the need for efficient transcription, export, and immune evasion.

Read between the Lines: Diversity of Nontranslational Selection Pressures on Local Codon Usage

Tue, 04 May 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Protein coding genes can contain specific motifs within their nucleotide sequence that function as a signal for various biological pathways. The presence of such sequence motifs within a gene can have beneficial or detrimental effects on the phenotype and fitness of an organism, and this can lead to the enrichment or avoidance of this sequence motif. The degeneracy of the genetic code allows for the existence of alternative synonymous sequences that exclude or include these motifs, while keeping the encoded amino acid sequence intact. This implies that locally, there can be a selective pressure for preferentially using a codon over its synonymous alternative in order to avoid or enrich a specific sequence motif. This selective pressure could—in addition to mutation, drift and selection for translation efficiency and accuracy—contribute to shape the codon usage bias. In this review, we discuss patterns of avoidance of (or enrichment for) the various biological signals contained in specific nucleotide sequence motifs: transcription and translation initiation and termination signals, mRNA maturation signals, and antiviral immune system targets. Experimental data on the phenotypic or fitness effects of synonymous mutations in these sequence motifs confirm that they can be targets of local selection pressures on codon usage. We also formulate the hypothesis that transposable elements could have a similar impact on codon usage through their preferred integration sequences. Overall, selection on codon usage appears to be a combination of a global selection pressure imposed by the translation machinery, and a patchwork of local selection pressures related to biological signals contained in specific sequence motifs.

The Codon Usage Code for Cotranslational Folding of Viral Capsids

Thu, 29 Apr 2021 00:00:00 GMT

Codon bias is common to all organisms and is the result of mutation, drift, and selection. Selection for the efficiency and accuracy of translation is well recognized as a factor shaping the codon usage. In contrast, fewer studies report the control of the rate of translation as an additional selective pressure influencing the codon usage of an organism. Experimental molecular evolution using RNA virus populations is a powerful tool for the identification of mechanisms underlying the codon bias. Indeed, the role of deoptimized codons on the cotranslational folding has been proven in the capsids of two fecal-orally transmitted picornaviruses, poliovirus, and the hepatitis A virus, emphasizing the role of the frequency of codons in determining the phenotype. However, most studies on virus codon usage rely only on computational analyses, and experimental studies should be encouraged to clearly define the role of selection on codon evolution.