Birds are the most species-rich class of tetrapod vertebrates and have wide relevance across many research fields. We explored bird macroevolution using full genomes from 48 avian species representing all major extant clades. The avian genome is principally characterized by its constrained size, which predominantly arose because of lineage-specific erosion of repetitive elements, large segmental deletions, and gene loss. Avian genomes furthermore show a remarkably high degree of evolutionary stasis at the levels of nucleotide sequence, gene synteny, and chromosomal structure. Despite this pattern of conservation, we detected many non-neutral evolutionary changes in protein-coding genes and noncoding regions. These analyses reveal that pan-avian genomic diversity covaries with adaptations to different lifestyles and convergent evolution of traits.
Mammalian bipedalism has long been thought to have arisen in response to arid and open environments. Here, we tested whether bipedalism coevolved with environmental changes using molecular and paleontological data from the rodent superfamily Dipodoidea and statistical methods for reconstructing ancestral characteristics and past climates. Our results show that the post-Late Miocene aridification exerted selective pressures on tooth shape, but not on leg length of bipedal jerboas. Cheek tooth crown height has increased since the Late Miocene, but the hind limb/head-body length ratios remained stable and high despite the environmental change from humid and forested to arid and open conditions, rather than increasing from low to high as predicted by the arid-bipedalism hypothesis. The decoupling of locomotor and dental character evolution indicates that bipedalism evolved under selective pressure different from that of dental hypsodonty in jerboas. We reconstructed the habitats of early jerboas using floral and faunal data, and the results show that the environments in which bipedalism evolved were forested. Our results suggest that bipedalism evolved as an adaptation to humid woodlands or forests for vertical jumping. Running at high speeds is likely a by-product of selection for jumping, which became advantageous in open environments later on.
The evolution of avian feathers has recently been illumin
ated by fossils and the identification of genes involved in
feather patterning and morphogenesis. However, molecula
r studies have focused mainly on protein-coding genes.
Using comparative genomics and more than 600,000 conserved regulatory elements, we show that patterns of genome evolution in the vicinity of feather genes are consistent with a major role for regulatory innovation in the evolution of feathers. Rates of innovation at feather regulatory elements exhibit an extended period of innovation with peaks in the ancestors of amniotes and archosaurs. We estimate that 86% of such regulatory elements and 100% of the nonkeratin feather gene set were present prior to the origin of Dinosauria. On the branch leading to modern birds, we detect a strong signal of regulatory innovation near insulin-like growth factor binding protein (IGFBP) 2 and IGFBP5, which have roles in body size reduction, and may represent a genomic signature for the miniaturization of dinosaurian body size preceding the origin of flight.
BACKGROUND: With its plumage color dimorphism and unique history in North America, including a recent population expansion and an epizootic of Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG), the house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) is a model species for studying sexual selection, plumage coloration and host-parasite interactions. As part of our ongoing efforts to make available genomic resources for this species, here we report a transcriptome assembly derived from genes expressed in spleen. RESULTS: We characterize transcriptomes from two populations with different histories of demography and disease exposure: a recently founded population in the eastern US that has been exposed to MG for over a decade and a native population from the western range that has never been exposed to MG. We utilize this resource to quantify conservation in gene expression in passerine birds over approximately 50 MY by comparing splenic expression profiles for 9,646 house finch transcripts and those from zebra finch and find that less than half of all genes expressed in spleen in either species are expressed in both species. Comparative gene annotations from several vertebrate species suggest that the house finch transcriptomes contain ~15 genes not yet found in previously sequenced vertebrate genomes. The house finch transcriptomes harbour ~85,000 SNPs, ~20,000 of which are non-synonymous. Although not yet validated by biological or technical replication, we identify a set of genes exhibiting differences between populations in gene expression (n = 182; 2% of all transcripts), allele frequencies (76 FST ouliers) and alternative splicing as well as genes with several fixed non-synonymous substitutions; this set includes genes with functions related to double-strand break repair and immune response. CONCLUSIONS: The two house finch spleen transcriptome profiles will add to the increasing data on genome and transcriptome sequence information from natural populations. Differences in splenic expression between house finch and zebra finch imply either significant evolutionary turnover of splenic expression patterns or different physiological states of the individuals examined. The transcriptome resource will enhance the potential to annotate an eventual house finch genome, and the set of gene-based high-quality SNPs will help clarify the genetic underpinnings of host-pathogen interactions and sexual selection.
In reptiles, sex-determining mechanisms have evolved repeatedly and reversibly between genotypic and temperature-dependent sex determination. The gene Dmrt1 directs male determination in chicken (and presumably other birds), and regulates sex differentiation in animals as distantly related as fruit flies, nematodes and humans. Here, we show a consistent molecular difference in Dmrt1 between reptiles with genotypic and temperature-dependent sex determination. Among 34 non-avian reptiles, a convergently evolved pair of amino acids encoded by sequence within exon 2 near the DM-binding domain of Dmrt1 distinguishes species with either type of sex determination. We suggest that this amino acid shift accompanied the evolution of genotypic sex determination from an ancestral condition of temperature-dependent sex determination at least three times among reptiles, as evident in turtles, birds and squamates. This novel hypothesis describes the evolution of sex-determining mechanisms as turnover events accompanied by one or two small mutations.
There is an emerging consensus that undergraduate biology education in the United States is at a crucial juncture, especially as we acknowledge the need to train a new generation of scientists to meet looming environmental and health crises. Digital resources for biology now available online provide an opportunity to transform biology curricula to include more authentic and inquiry-driven educational experiences. Digitized natural history collections have become tremendous assets for research in environmental and health sciences, but, to date, these data remain largely untapped by educators. Natural history collections have the potential to help transform undergraduate science education from passive learning into an active exploration of the natural world, including the exploration of the complex relationships among environmental conditions, biodiversity, and human well-being. By incorporating natural history specimens and their associated data into undergraduate curricula, educators can promote participatory learning and foster an understanding of essential interactions between organisms and their environments.
Members of a gene family expressed in a single species often experience common selection pressures. Consequently, the molecular basis of complex adaptations may be expected to involve parallel evolutionary changes in multiple paralogs. Here, we use bacterial artificial chromosome library scans to investigate the evolution of the voltage-gated sodium channel (Nav) family in the garter snake Thamnophis sirtalis, a predator of highly toxic Taricha newts. Newts possess tetrodotoxin (TTX), which blocks Nav’s, arresting action potentials in nerves and muscle. Some Thamnophis populations have evolved resistance to extremely high levels of TTX. Previous work has identified amino acid sites in the skeletal muscle sodium channel Nav1.4 that confer resistance to TTX and vary across populations. We identify parallel evolution of TTX resistance in two additional Nav paralogs, Nav1.6 and 1.7, which are known to be expressed in the peripheral nervous system and should thus be exposed to ingested TTX. Each paralog contains at least one TTX-resistant substitution identical to a substitution previously identified in Nav1.4. These sites are fixed across populations, suggesting that the resistant peripheral nerves antedate resistant muscle. In contrast, three sodium channels expressed solely in the central nervous system (Nav1.1–1.3) showed no evidence of TTX resistance, consistent with protection from toxins by the blood–brain barrier. We also report the exon–intron structure of six Nav paralogs, the first such analysis for snake genes. Our results demonstrate that the molecular basis of adaptation may be both repeatable across members of a gene family and predictable based on functional considerations.
Sensory systems define an animal's capacity for perception and can evolve to promote survival in new environmental niches. We have uncovered a noncanonical mechanism for sweet taste perception that evolved in hummingbirds since their divergence from insectivorous swifts, their closest relatives. We observed the widespread absence in birds of an essential subunit (T1R2) of the only known vertebrate sweet receptor, raising questions about how specialized nectar feeders such as hummingbirds sense sugars. Receptor expression studies revealed that the ancestral umami receptor (the T1R1-T1R3 heterodimer) was repurposed in hummingbirds to function as a carbohydrate receptor. Furthermore, the molecular recognition properties of T1R1-T1R3 guided taste behavior in captive and wild hummingbirds. We propose that changing taste receptor function enabled hummingbirds to perceive and use nectar, facilitating the massive radiation of hummingbird species.
To provide context for the diversification of archosaurs-the group that includes crocodilians, dinosaurs, and birds-we generated draft genomes of three crocodilians: Alligator mississippiensis (the American alligator), Crocodylus porosus (the saltwater crocodile), and Gavialis gangeticus (the Indian gharial). We observed an exceptionally slow rate of genome evolution within crocodilians at all levels, including nucleotide substitutions, indels, transposable element content and movement, gene family evolution, and chromosomal synteny. When placed within the context of related taxa including birds and turtles, this suggests that the common ancestor of all of these taxa also exhibited slow genome evolution and that the comparatively rapid evolution is derived in birds. The data also provided the opportunity to analyze heterozygosity in crocodilians, which indicates a likely reduction in population size for all three taxa through the Pleistocene. Finally, these data combined with newly published bird genomes allowed us to reconstruct the partial genome of the common ancestor of archosaurs, thereby providing a tool to investigate the genetic starting material of crocodilians, birds, and dinosaurs.
To better determine the history of modern birds, we performed a genome-scale phylogenetic analysis of 48 species representing all orders of Neoaves using phylogenomic methods created to handle genome-scale data. We recovered a highly resolved tree that confirms previously controversial sister or close relationships. We identified the first divergence in Neoaves, two groups we named Passerea and Columbea, representing independent lineages of diverse and convergently evolved land and water bird species. Among Passerea, we infer the common ancestor of core landbirds to have been an apex predator and confirm independent gains of vocal learning. Among Columbea, we identify pigeons and flamingoes as belonging to sister clades. Even with whole genomes, some of the earliest branches in Neoaves proved challenging to resolve, which was best explained by massive protein-coding sequence convergence and high levels of incomplete lineage sorting that occurred during a rapid radiation after the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event about 66 million years ago.
The masking of deleterious mutations by complementation and the reassortment of virus segments (virus sex) are expected
to increase population genetic diversity among coinfecting viruses. Conversely, clonally reproducing or noncoinfecting virus
populations may experience clonal interference where viral clones compete with one another, preventing selective sweeps.
This dynamic reduces the efficiency of selection and increases the genetic diversity. To determine the relative influences of
these forces on population genetic diversity, we evolved 6 populations of bacteriophage φ6 under conditions promoting
or preventing coinfection. Following 300 generations, we isolated and partially sequenced 10 clones from each population.
We found greater diversity among asexual populations than sexual populations. Moreover, sexual populations did not show greater relative fitnesses than asexual populations, implying that reduced genetic variation did not result from purifying selection. However, sexual populations were less genetically robust than asexual populations and likely more prone to the deleterious epistatic effects of mutations. As such, a neutral mutation on the asexually evolved (robust) background could be profoundly deleterious on the sexually evolved (brittle) background. This could facilitate sexual populations undergoing greater purifying selection to remove deleterious mutations, but this selection is not reflected by increases in average population fitness. Our results bolster a growing literature suggesting that RNA virus segmentation is probably not a mechanism that evolved because it provides a generalized benefit of sex.
Understanding how complex organisms function as integrated units that constantly interact with their environment is a long-standing challenge in biology. To address this challenge, organismal biology reveals general organizing principles of physiological systems and behavior-in particular, in complex multicellular animals. Organismal biology also focuses on the role of individual variability in the evolutionary maintenance of diversity. To broadly advance these frontiers, cross-compatibility of experimental designs, methodological approaches, and data interpretation pipelines represents a key prerequisite. It is now possible to rapidly and systematically analyze complete genomes to elucidate genetic variation associated with traits and conditions that define individuals, populations, and species. However, genetic variation alone does not explain the varied individual physiology and behavior of complex organisms. We propose that such emergent properties of complex organisms can best be explained through a renewed emphasis on the context and life-history dependence of individual phenotypes to complement genetic data.
For many molecular ecologists, the mantra and mission of the field of ecological genomics could be encapsulated by the phrase ‘to find the genes that matter’ (Mitchell- Olds 2001; Rockman 2012). This phrase of course refers to the early hope and current increasing success in the search for genes whose variation underlies phenotypic variation and fitness in natural populations. In the years since the modern incarnation of the field of ecological genomics, many would agree that the low-hanging fruit has, at least in principle, been plucked: we now have several elegant examples of genes whose variation influences key adaptive traits in natural populations, and these examples have revealed important insights into the architecture of adaptive variation (Hoekstra et al. 2006; Shapiro et al. 2009; Chan et al. 2010). But how well will these early examples, often involving single genes of large effect on discrete or near-discrete phenotypes, represent the dynamics of adaptive change for the totality of phenotypes in nature? Will traits exhibiting continuous rather than discrete variation in natural populations have as simple a genetic basis as these early examples suggest (Prasad et al. 2012; Rockman 2012)? Two papers in this issue (Robinson et al. 2013; Santure et al. 2013) not only suggest answers to these questions but also provide useful extensions of statistical approaches for ecological geneticists to study the genetics of continuous variation in nature. Together these papers, by the same research groups studying evolution in a natural population of Great Tits (Parus major), provide a glimpse of what we should expect as the field begins to dissect the genetic basis of what is arguably the most common type of variation in nature, and how genome-wide surveys of variation can be applied to natural populations without pedigrees.
BACKGROUND: Scant genomic information from non-avian reptile sex chromosomes is available, and for only a few lizards, several snakes and one turtle species, and it represents only a small fraction of the total sex chromosome sequences in these species. RESULTS: We report a 352 kb of contiguous sequence from the sex chromosome of a squamate reptile, Pogona vitticeps, with a ZZ/ZW sex microchromosome system. This contig contains five protein coding genes (oprd1, rcc1, znf91, znf131, znf180), and major families of repetitive sequences with a high number of copies of LTR and non-LTR retrotransposons, including the CR1 and Bov-B LINEs. The two genes, oprd1 and rcc1 are part of a homologous syntenic block, which is conserved among amniotes. While oprd1 and rcc1 have no known function in sex determination or differentiation in amniotes, this homologous syntenic block in mammals and chicken also contains R-spondin 1 (rspo1), the ovarian differentiating gene in mammals. In order to explore the probability that rspo1 is sex determining in dragon lizards, genomic BAC and cDNA clones were mapped using fluorescence in situ hybridisation. Their location on an autosomal microchromosome pair, not on the ZW sex microchromosomes, eliminates rspo1 as a candidate sex determining gene in P. vitticeps. CONCLUSION: Our study has characterized the largest contiguous stretch of physically mapped sex chromosome sequence (352 kb) from a ZZ/ZW lizard species. Although this region represents only a small fraction of the sex chromosomes of P. vitticeps, it has revealed several features typically associated with sex chromosomes including the accumulation of large blocks of repetitive sequences.
Across amniotes, sex-determining mechanisms exhibit great variation, yet the genes that govern sexual differentiation are largely conserved. Studies of evolution of sex-determining and sex-differentiating genes require an exhaustive characterization of functions of those genes such as FOXL2 and FGF9. FOXL2 is associated with ovarian development, and FGF9 is known to play a role in testicular organogenesis in mammals and other amniotes. As a step toward characterization of the evolutionary history of sexual development, we measured expression of FOXL2 and FGF9 across 3 developmental stages and 8 juvenile tissue types in male and female American alligators, Alligator mississippiensis. We report surprisingly high expression of FOXL2 before the stage of embryonic development when sex is determined in response to temperature, and sustained and variable expression of FGF9 in juvenile male, but not female tissue types. Novel characterization of gene expression in reptiles with temperature-dependent sex determination such as American alligators may inform the evolution of sex-determining and sex-differentiating gene networks, as they suggest alternative functions from which the genes may have been exapted. Future functional profiling of sex-differentiating genes should similarly follow other genes and other species to enable a broad comparison across sex-determining mechanisms.
BACKGROUND:We describe the genome of the western painted turtle, Chrysemys picta bellii, one of the most widespread, abundant, and well-studied turtles. We place the genome into a comparative evolutionary context, and focus on genomic features associated with tooth loss, immune function, longevity, sex differentiation and determination, and the species' physiological capacities to withstand extreme anoxia and tissue freezing.RESULTS:Our phylogenetic analyses confirm that turtles are the sister group to living archosaurs, and demonstrate an extraordinarily slow rate of sequence evolution in the painted turtle. The ability of the painted turtle to withstand complete anoxia and partial freezing appears to be associated with common vertebrate gene networks, and we identify candidate genes for future functional analyses. Tooth loss shares a common pattern of pseudogenization and degradation of tooth-specific genes with birds, although the rate of accumulation of mutations is much slower in the painted turtle. Genes associated with sex differentiation generally reflect phylogeny rather than convergence in sex determination functionality. Among gene families that demonstrate exceptional expansions or show signatures of strong natural selection, immune function and musculoskeletal patterning genes are consistently over-represented.CONCLUSIONS:Our comparative genomic analyses indicate that common vertebrate regulatory networks, some of which have analogs in human diseases, are often involved in the western painted turtle's extraordinary physiological capacities. As these regulatory pathways are analyzed at the functional level, the painted turtle may offer important insights into the management of a number of human health disorders.