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Preview: Molecular Biology and Evolution - current issue

Molecular Biology and Evolution Current Issue

Published: Thu, 11 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Last Build Date: Tue, 23 Jan 2018 15:49:21 GMT


Finding Their Inner Bird: Using Modern Genomics to Turn Alligator Scales into Birdlike Feathers

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Upon first glance, most people would not think alligators or birds were evolutionary cousins. But indeed, reptiles are the closest living relatives of birds, and all descended from the archosaurs, the “ruling reptiles” who once dominated the Earth 250 Ma.

Bayesian Inference of Species Networks from Multilocus Sequence Data

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Reticulate species evolution, such as hybridization or introgression, is relatively common in nature. In the presence of reticulation, species relationships can be captured by a rooted phylogenetic network, and orthologous gene evolution can be modeled as bifurcating gene trees embedded in the species network. We present a Bayesian approach to jointly infer species networks and gene trees from multilocus sequence data. A novel birth-hybridization process is used as the prior for the species network, and we assume a multispecies network coalescent prior for the embedded gene trees. We verify the ability of our method to correctly sample from the posterior distribution, and thus to infer a species network, through simulations. To quantify the power of our method, we reanalyze two large data sets of genes from spruces and yeasts. For the three closely related spruces, we verify the previously suggested homoploid hybridization event in this clade; for the yeast data, we find extensive hybridization events. Our method is available within the BEAST 2 add-on SpeciesNetwork, and thus provides an extensible framework for Bayesian inference of reticulate evolution.

Combination of 247 Genome-Wide Association Studies Reveals High Cancer Risk as a Result of Evolutionary Adaptation

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Analysis of GLOBOCAN-2012 data shows clearly here that cancer incidence worldwide is highly related with low average annual temperatures and extreme low temperatures. This applies for all cancers together or separately for many frequent or rare cancer types (all cancers P = 9.49×10−18). Supporting fact is that Inuit people, living at extreme low temperatures, have the highest cancer rates today. Hypothesizing an evolutionary explanation, 240 cancer genome-wide association studies, and seven genome-wide association studies for cold and high-altitude adaptation were combined. A list of 1,377 cancer-associated genes was created to initially investigate whether cold selected genes are enriched with cancer-associated genes. Among Native Americans, Inuit and Eskimos, the highest association was observed for Native Americans (P = 6.7×10−5). An overall or a meta-analysis approach confirmed further this result. Similar approach for three populations living at extreme high altitude, revealed high association for Andeans-Tibetans (P = 1.3×10−11). Overall analysis or a meta-analysis was also significant. A separate analysis showed special selection for tumor suppressor genes. These results can be viewed along with those of previous functional studies that showed that reduced apoptosis potential due to specific p53 variants (the most important tumor suppressor gene) is beneficial in high-altitude and cold environments. In conclusion, this study shows that genetic variants selected for adaptation at extreme environmental conditions can increase cancer risk later on age. This is in accordance with antagonistic pleiotropy hypothesis.

Scientists Find Evidence Our Best Friends, Dogs, Similarly Adapted to Malaria in Africa

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Once domesticated, dogs spread across the globe wherever humans migrated and settled.

Multiple Innovations in Genetic and Epigenetic Mechanisms Cooperate to Underpin Human Brain Evolution

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Our knowledge of how the human brain differs from those of other species in terms of evolutionary adaptations and functionality is limited. Comparative genomics reveal valuable insight, especially the expansion of human-specific noncoding regulatory and repeat-containing regions. Recent studies add to our knowledge of evolving brain function by investigating cellular mechanisms such as protein emergence, extensive sequence editing, retrotransposon activity, dynamic epigenetic modifications, and multiple noncoding RNA functions. These findings present an opportunity to combine newly discovered genetic and epigenetic mechanisms with more established concepts into a more comprehensive picture to better understand the uniquely evolved human brain.

Multiple Regulatory Modules Are Required for Scale-to-Feather Conversion

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

The origin of feathers is an important question in Evo-Devo studies, with the eventual evolution of vaned feathers which are aerodynamic, allowing feathered dinosaurs and early birds to fly and venture into new ecological niches. Studying how feathers and scales are developmentally specified provides insight into how a new organ may evolve. We identified feather-associated genes using genomic analyses. The candidate genes were tested by expressing them in chicken and alligator scale forming regions. Ectopic expression of these genes induced intermediate morphotypes between scales and feathers which revealed several major morphogenetic events along this path: Localized growth zone formation, follicle invagination, epithelial branching, feather keratin differentiation, and dermal papilla formation. In addition to molecules known to induce feathers on scales (retinoic acid, β-catenin), we identified novel scale-feather converters (Sox2, Zic1, Grem1, Spry2, Sox18) which induce one or more regulatory modules guiding these morphogenetic events. Some morphotypes resemble filamentous appendages found in feathered dinosaur fossils, whereas others exhibit characteristics of modern avian feathers. We propose these morpho-regulatory modules were used to diversify archosaur scales and to initiate feather evolution. The regulatory combination and hierarchical integration may have led to the formation of extant feather forms. Our study highlights the importance of integrating discoveries between developmental biology and paleontology.

Evaluating Fast Maximum Likelihood-Based Phylogenetic Programs Using Empirical Phylogenomic Data Sets

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

The sizes of the data matrices assembled to resolve branches of the tree of life have increased dramatically, motivating the development of programs for fast, yet accurate, inference. For example, several different fast programs have been developed in the very popular maximum likelihood framework, including RAxML/ExaML, PhyML, IQ-TREE, and FastTree. Although these programs are widely used, a systematic evaluation and comparison of their performance using empirical genome-scale data matrices has so far been lacking. To address this question, we evaluated these four programs on 19 empirical phylogenomic data sets with hundreds to thousands of genes and up to 200 taxa with respect to likelihood maximization, tree topology, and computational speed. For single-gene tree inference, we found that the more exhaustive and slower strategies (ten searches per alignment) outperformed faster strategies (one tree search per alignment) using RAxML, PhyML, or IQ-TREE. Interestingly, single-gene trees inferred by the three programs yielded comparable coalescent-based species tree estimations. For concatenation-based species tree inference, IQ-TREE consistently achieved the best-observed likelihoods for all data sets, and RAxML/ExaML was a close second. In contrast, PhyML often failed to complete concatenation-based analyses, whereas FastTree was the fastest but generated lower likelihood values and more dissimilar tree topologies in both types of analyses. Finally, data matrix properties, such as the number of taxa and the strength of phylogenetic signal, sometimes substantially influenced the programs’ relative performance. Our results provide real-world gene and species tree phylogenetic inference benchmarks to inform the design and execution of large-scale phylogenomic data analyses.

Human-Specific Mutations and Positively Selected Sites in MARCO Confer Functional Changes

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Macrophage Receptor with COllagenous structure (MARCO) is a class A scavenger receptor that binds, phagocytoses, and modifies inflammatory responses to bacterial pathogens. Multiple candidate gene approach studies have shown that polymorphisms in MARCO are associated with susceptibility or resistance to Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection, but how these variants alter function is not known. To complement candidate gene approach studies, we previously used phylogenetic analyses to identify a residue, glutamine 452 (Q452), within the ligand-binding Scavenger Receptor Cysteine Rich domain as undergoing positive selection in humans. Herein, we show that Q452 is found in Denisovans, Neanderthals, and extant humans, but all other nonprimate, terrestrial, and aquatic mammals possess an aspartic acid (D452) residue. Further analysis of hominoid sequences of MARCO identified an additional human-specific mutation, phenylalanine 282 (F282), within the collagenous domain. We show that residue 282 is polymorphic in humans, but only 17% of individuals (rs6761637) possess the ancestral serine residue at position 282. We show that rs6761637 is in linkage disequilibrium with MARCO polymorphisms that have been previously linked to susceptibility to pulmonary tuberculosis. To assess the functional importance of sites Q452 and F282 in humans, we cloned the ancestral residues and loss-of-function mutations and investigated the role of these residues in binding and internalizing polystyrene microspheres and Escherichia coli. Herein, we show that the residues at sites 452 and 282 enhance receptor function.

Sex Differences in 20-Hydroxyecdysone Hormone Levels Control Sexual Dimorphism in Bicyclus anynana Wing Patterns

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

In contrast to the important role of hormones in the development of sexual traits in vertebrates (Cox RM, Stenquist DS, Calsbeek R. 2009. Testosterone, growth and the evolution of sexual size dimorphism. J Evol Biol. 22(8):1586–1598.), the differentiation of these traits in insects is attributed almost exclusively to cell-autonomous mechanisms controlled by members of the sex determination pathway (Verhulst EC, van de Zande L. 2015. Double nexus – doublesex is the connecting element in sex determination. Brief Funct Genomics 14(6):396–406.), such as doublesex. Although hormones can shape the development of sexual traits in insects, variation in hormone levels are not conclusively known to cause dimorphism in these traits (Prakash A, Monteiro A. 2016. Molecular mechanisms of secondary sexual trait development in insects. Curr Opin Insect Sci. 17:40–48.). Here, we show that butterflies use sex-specific differences in 20-hydroxyecdysone hormone titers to create sexually dimorphic wing ornaments. Females of the dry season (DS) form of Bicyclus anynana display a larger sexual ornament on their wings than males, whereas in the wet season form both sexes have similarly sized ornaments (Prudic KL, Jeon C, Cao H, Monteiro A. 2011. Developmental plasticity in sexual roles of butterfly species drives mutual sexual ornamentation. Science 331(6013):73–75.). High levels of circulating 20-hydroxyecdysone during larval development in DS females and wet season forms cause proliferation of the cells fated to give rise to this wing ornament, and results in sexual dimorphism in the DS forms. This study advances our understanding of how the environment regulates sex-specific patterns of plasticity of sexual ornaments and conclusively shows that hormones can play a role in the development of secondary sexual traits in insects, just like they do in vertebrates.

Landscape of DNA Methylation on the Marsupial X

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

DNA methylation plays a key role in maintaining transcriptional silence on the inactive X chromosome of eutherian mammals. Beyond eutherians, there are limited genome wide data on DNA methylation from other vertebrates. Previous studies of X borne genes in various marsupial models revealed no differential DNA methylation of promoters between the sexes, leading to the conclusion that CpG methylation plays no role in marsupial X-inactivation. Using reduced representation bisulfite sequencing, we generated male and female CpG methylation profiles in four representative vertebrates (mouse, gray short-tailed opossum, platypus, and chicken). A variety of DNA methylation patterns were observed. Platypus and chicken displayed no large-scale differential DNA methylation between the sexes on the autosomes or the sex chromosomes. As expected, a metagene analysis revealed hypermethylation at transcription start sites (TSS) of genes subject to X-inactivation in female mice. This contrasted with the opossum, in which metagene analysis did not detect differential DNA methylation between the sexes at TSSs of genes subject to X-inactivation. However, regions flanking TSSs of these genes were hypomethylated. Our data are the first to demonstrate that, for genes subject to X-inactivation in both eutherian and marsupial mammals, there is a consistent difference between DNA methylation levels at TSSs and immediate flanking regions, which we propose has a silencing effect in both groups.

Origin and Evolution of the Bartonella Gene Transfer Agent

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Gene transfer agents (GTAs) are domesticated bacteriophages that have evolved into molecular machines for the transfer of bacterial DNA. Despite their widespread nature and their biological implications, the mechanisms and selective forces that drive the emergence of GTAs are still poorly understood. Two GTAs have been identified in the Alphaproteobacteria: the RcGTA, which is widely distributed in a broad range of species; and the BaGTA, which has a restricted host range that includes vector-borne intracellular bacteria of the genus Bartonella. The RcGTA packages chromosomal DNA randomly, whereas the BaGTA particles contain a relatively higher fraction of genes for host interaction factors that are amplified from a nearby phage-derived origin of replication. In this study, we compare the BaGTA genes with homologous bacteriophage genes identified in the genomes of Bartonella species and close relatives. Unlike the BaGTA, the prophage genes are neither present in all species, nor inserted into homologous genomic sites. Phylogenetic inferences and substitution frequency analyses confirm codivergence of the BaGTA with the host genome, as opposed to multiple integration and recombination events in the prophages. Furthermore, the organization of segments flanking the BaGTA differs from that of the prophages by a few rearrangement events, which have abolished the normal coordination between phage genome replication and phage gene expression. Based on the results of our comparative analysis, we propose a model for how a prophage may be transformed into a GTA that transfers amplified bacterial DNA segments.

Reciprocal Nucleopeptides as the Ancestral Darwinian Self-Replicator

Wed, 08 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Even the simplest organisms are too complex to have spontaneously arisen fully formed, yet precursors to first life must have emerged ab initio from their environment. A watershed event was the appearance of the first entity capable of evolution: the Initial Darwinian Ancestor. Here, we suggest that nucleopeptide reciprocal replicators could have carried out this important role and contend that this is the simplest way to explain extant replication systems in a mathematically consistent way. We propose short nucleic acid templates on which amino-acylated adapters assembled. Spatial localization drives peptide ligation from activated precursors to generate phosphodiester-bond-catalytic peptides. Comprising autocatalytic protein and nucleic acid sequences, this dynamical system links and unifies several previous hypotheses and provides a plausible model for the emergence of DNA and the operational code.

Evolutionary Epigenomics of Retrotransposon-Mediated Methylation Spreading in Rice

Mon, 06 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Plant genomes contain numerous transposable elements (TEs), and many hypotheses on the evolutionary drivers that restrict TE activity have been postulated. Few models, however, have focused on the evolutionary epigenomic interaction between the plant host and its TE. The host genome recruits epigenetic factors, such as methylation, to silence TEs but methylation can spread beyond the TE sequence and influence the expression of nearby host genes. In this study, we investigated this epigenetic trade-off between TE and proximal host gene silencing by studying the epigenomic regulation of repressing long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposons (RTs) in Oryza sativa. Results showed significant evidence of methylation spreading originating from the LTR-RT sequences, and the extent of spreading was dependent on five factors: 1) LTR-RT family, 2) time since the LTR-RT insertion, 3) recombination rate of the LTR-RT region, 4) level of LTR-RT sequence methylation, and 5) chromosomal location. Methylation spreading had negative effects by reducing host gene expression, but only on host genes with LTR-RT inserted in its introns. Our results also suggested high levels of LTR-RT methylation might have a role in suppressing TE-mediated deleterious ectopic recombination. In the end, despite the methylation spreading, no strong epigenetic trade-off was detected and majority of LTR-RT may have only minor epigenetic effects on nearby host genes.

Mode and Rate of Evolution of Haemosporidian Mitochondrial Genomes: Timing the Radiation of Avian Parasites

Mon, 06 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Haemosporidians are a diverse group of vector-borne parasitic protozoa that includes the agents of human malaria; however, most of the described species are found in birds and reptiles. Although our understanding of these parasites’ diversity has expanded by analyses of their mitochondrial genes, there is limited information on these genes’ evolutionary rates. Here, 114 mitochondrial genomes (mtDNA) were studied from species belonging to four genera: Leucocytozoon, Haemoproteus, Hepatocystis, and Plasmodium. Contrary to previous assertions, the mtDNA is phylogenetically informative. The inferred phylogeny showed that, like the genus Plasmodium, the Leucocytozoon and Haemoproteus genera are not monophyletic groups. Although sensitive to the assumptions of the molecular dating method used, the estimated times indicate that the diversification of the avian haemosporidian subgenera/genera took place after the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary following the radiation of modern birds. Furthermore, parasite clade differences in mtDNA substitution rates and strength of negative selection were detected. These differences may affect the biological interpretation of mtDNA gene lineages used as a proxy to species in ecological and parasitological investigations. Given that the mitochondria are critically important in the parasite life cycle stages that take place in the vector and that the transmission of parasites belonging to particular clades has been linked to specific insect families/subfamilies, this study suggests that differences in vectors have affected the mode of evolution of haemosporidian mtDNA genes. The observed patterns also suggest that the radiation of haemosporidian parasites may be the result of community-level evolutionary processes between their vertebrate and invertebrate hosts.

The Paleo-Indian Entry into South America According to Mitogenomes

Tue, 31 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Recent and compelling archaeological evidence attests to human presence ∼14.5 ka at multiple sites in South America and a very early exploitation of extreme high-altitude Andean environments. Considering that, according to genetic evidence, human entry into North America from Beringia most likely occurred ∼16 ka, these archeological findings would imply an extremely rapid spread along the double continent. To shed light on this issue from a genetic perspective, we first completely sequenced 217 novel modern mitogenomes of Native American ancestry from the northwestern area of South America (Ecuador and Peru); we then evaluated them phylogenetically together with other available mitogenomes (430 samples, both modern and ancient) from the same geographic area and, finally, with all closely related mitogenomes from the entire double continent. We detected a large number (N = 48) of novel subhaplogroups, often branching into further subclades, belonging to two classes: those that arose in South America early after its peopling and those that instead originated in North or Central America and reached South America with the first settlers. Coalescence age estimates for these subhaplogroups provide time boundaries indicating that early Paleo-Indians probably moved from North America to the area corresponding to modern Ecuador and Peru over the short time frame of ∼1.5 ka comprised between 16.0 and 14.6 ka.

UFBoot2: Improving the Ultrafast Bootstrap Approximation

Wed, 25 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMT

The standard bootstrap (SBS), despite being computationally intensive, is widely used in maximum likelihood phylogenetic analyses. We recently proposed the ultrafast bootstrap approximation (UFBoot) to reduce computing time while achieving more unbiased branch supports than SBS under mild model violations. UFBoot has been steadily adopted as an efficient alternative to SBS and other bootstrap approaches. Here, we present UFBoot2, which substantially accelerates UFBoot and reduces the risk of overestimating branch supports due to polytomies or severe model violations. Additionally, UFBoot2 provides suitable bootstrap resampling strategies for phylogenomic data. UFBoot2 is 778 times (median) faster than SBS and 8.4 times (median) faster than RAxML rapid bootstrap on tested data sets. UFBoot2 is implemented in the IQ-TREE software package version 1.6 and freely available at

Interdependence, Reflexivity, Fidelity, Impedance Matching, and the Evolution of Genetic Coding

Tue, 24 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Genetic coding is generally thought to have required ribozymes whose functions were taken over by polypeptide aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRS). Two discoveries about aaRS and their interactions with tRNA substrates now furnish a unifying rationale for the opposite conclusion: that the key processes of the Central Dogma of molecular biology emerged simultaneously and naturally from simple origins in a peptide•RNA partnership, eliminating the epistemological utility of a prior RNA world. First, the two aaRS classes likely arose from opposite strands of the same ancestral gene, implying a simple genetic alphabet. The resulting inversion symmetries in aaRS structural biology would have stabilized the initial and subsequent differentiation of coding specificities, rapidly promoting diversity in the proteome. Second, amino acid physical chemistry maps onto tRNA identity elements, establishing reflexive, nanoenvironmental sensing in protein aaRS. Bootstrapping of increasingly detailed coding is thus intrinsic to polypeptide aaRS, but impossible in an RNA world. These notions underline the following concepts that contradict gradual replacement of ribozymal aaRS by polypeptide aaRS: 1) aaRS enzymes must be interdependent; 2) reflexivity intrinsic to polypeptide aaRS production dynamics promotes bootstrapping; 3) takeover of RNA-catalyzed aminoacylation by enzymes will necessarily degrade specificity; and 4) the Central Dogma’s emergence is most probable when replication and translation error rates remain comparable. These characteristics are necessary and sufficient for the essentially de novo emergence of a coupled gene–replicase–translatase system of genetic coding that would have continuously preserved the functional meaning of genetically encoded protein genes whose phylogenetic relationships match those observed today.

Horizontal Transfer of Non-LTR Retrotransposons from Arthropods to Flowering Plants

Mon, 23 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Even though lateral movements of transposons across families and even phyla within multicellular eukaryotic kingdoms have been found, little is known about transposon transfer between the kingdoms Animalia and Plantae. We discovered a novel non-LTR retrotransposon, AdLINE3, in a wild peanut species. Sequence comparisons and phylogenetic analyses indicated that AdLINE3 is a member of the RTE clade, originally identified in a nematode and rarely reported in plants. We identified RTE elements in 82 plants, spanning angiosperms to algae, including recently active elements in some flowering plants. RTE elements in flowering plants were likely derived from a single family we refer to as An-RTE. Interestingly, An-RTEs show significant DNA sequence identity with non-LTR retroelements from 42 animals belonging to four phyla. Moreover, the sequence identity of RTEs between two arthropods and two plants was higher than that of homologous genes. Phylogenetic and evolutionary analyses of RTEs from both animals and plants suggest that the An-RTE family was likely transferred horizontally into angiosperms from an ancient aphid(s) or ancestral arthropod(s). Notably, some An-RTEs were recruited as coding sequences of functional genes participating in metabolic or other biochemical processes in plants. This is the first potential example of horizontal transfer of transposons between animals and flowering plants. Our findings help to understand exchanges of genetic material between the kingdom Animalia and Plantae and suggest arthropods likely impacted on plant genome evolution.

The Rate of Evolution of Postmating-Prezygotic Reproductive Isolation in Drosophila

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Reproductive isolation is an intrinsic aspect of species formation. For that reason, the identification of the precise isolating traits, and the rates at which they evolve, is crucial to understanding how species originate and persist. Previous work has measured the rates of evolution of prezygotic and postzygotic barriers to gene flow, yet no systematic analysis has studied the rates of evolution of postmating-prezygotic (PMPZ) barriers. We measured the magnitude of two barriers to gene flow that act after mating occurs but before fertilization. We also measured the magnitude of a premating barrier (female mating rate in nonchoice experiments) and two postzygotic barriers (hybrid inviability and hybrid sterility) for all pairwise crosses of all nine known extant species within the melanogaster subgroup. Our results indicate that PMPZ isolation evolves faster than hybrid inviability but slower than premating isolation. Next, we partition postzygotic isolation into different components and find that, as expected, hybrid sterility evolves faster than hybrid inviability. These results lend support for the hypothesis that, in Drosophila, reproductive isolation mechanisms (RIMs) that act early in reproduction (or in development) tend to evolve faster than those that act later in the reproductive cycle. Finally, we tested whether there was evidence for reinforcing selection at any RIM. We found no evidence for generalized evolution of reproductive isolation via reinforcement which indicates that there is no pervasive evidence of this evolutionary process. Our results indicate that PMPZ RIMs might have important evolutionary consequences in initiating speciation and in the persistence of new species.

Effects of Demographic History on the Detection of Recombination Hotspots from Linkage Disequilibrium

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMT

In some species, meiotic recombination is concentrated in small genomic regions. These “recombination hotspots” leave signatures in fine-scale patterns of linkage disequilibrium, raising the prospect that the genomic landscape of hotspots can be characterized from sequence variation. This approach has led to the inference that hotspots evolve rapidly in some species, but are conserved in others. Historic demographic events, such as population bottlenecks, are known to affect patterns of linkage disequilibrium across the genome, violating population genetic assumptions of this approach. Although such events are prevalent, demographic history is generally ignored when making inferences about the evolution of recombination hotspots. To determine the effect of demography on the detection of recombination hotspots, we use the coalescent to simulate haplotypes with a known recombination landscape. We measure the ability of popular linkage disequilibrium-based programs to detect hotspots across a range of demographic histories, including population bottlenecks, hidden population structure, population expansions, and population contractions. We find that demographic events have the potential to greatly reduce the power and increase the false positive rate of hotspot discovery. Neither the power nor the false positive rate of hotspot detection can be predicted without also knowing the demographic history of the sample. Our results suggest that ignoring demographic history likely overestimates the power to detect hotspots and therefore underestimates the degree of hotspot sharing between species. We suggest strategies for incorporating demographic history into population genetic inferences about recombination hotspots.

Whole-Genome Sequencing of African Dogs Provides Insights into Adaptations against Tropical Parasites

Tue, 10 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Natural selection in domestic dogs is of great interest in evolutionary biology since dogs have migrated to every inhabited continent of the world alongside humans, and adapted to diverse environments. Here, we explored their demographic history and genetic basis of adaptation to the tropical African environment using whole genome analyses of 19 African indigenous dogs from Nigeria. Demographic analysis suggests that the ancestors of these dogs migrated into Africa from Eurasia 14,000 years ago and underwent a severe founder effect before population expansion. Admixture analysis further reveals that African dog genomes contain about 1.88–3.50% introgression from African golden wolves (Canis anthus). Population genetic analysis identifies 50 positively selected genes linked with immunity, angiogenesis, ultraviolet protection, as well as insulin secretion and sensitivity that may contribute to adaptation to tropical conditions. One of the positively selected genes, adhesion G protein-coupled receptor E1 (ADGRE1), has also been found to be association with severe malaria resistance in African human populations. Functional assessments showed that ADGRE1 provides protective host defense against Plasmodium infections. This result, together with the fact that the inflammatory response to canine babesiosis is similar to complicated falciparum malaria in humans, support the dogs as a model for the study of malaria control and treatment.