In insects, forewings and hindwings usually have different shapes, sizes, and color patterns. A variety of RNAi experiments across insect species have shown that the hox gene Ultrabithorax (Ubx) is necessary to promote hindwing identity. However, it remains unclear whether Ubx is sufficient to confer hindwing fate to forewings across insects. Here, we address this question by over-expressing Ubx in the butterfly Bicyclus anynana using a heat-shock promoter. Ubx whole-body over-expression during embryonic and larvae development led to body plan changes in larvae but to mere quantitative changes to adult morphology, respectively. Embryonic heat-shocks led to fused segments, loss of thoracic and abdominal limbs, and transformation of head limbs to larger appendages. Larval heat-shocks led to reduced eyespot size in the expected homeotic direction, but neither additional eyespots nor wing shape changes were observed in forewings as expected of a homeotic transformation. Interestingly, Ubx was found to be expressed in a novel, non-characteristic domain - in the hindwing eyespot centers. Furthermore, ectopic expression of Ubx on the pupal wing activated the eyespot-associated genes spalt and Distal-less, known to be directly repressed by Ubx in the fly?s haltere and leg primordia, respectively, and led to the differentiation of black wing scales. These results suggest that Ubx has been co-opted into a novel eyespot gene regulatory network, and that it is capable of activating black pigmentation in butterflies.
Mechanisms that generate transcript diversity are of fundamental importance in eukaryotes. Although a large fraction of human protein-coding genes and lincRNAs produce more than one mRNA isoform each, the regulation of this phenomenon is still incompletely understood. Much progress has been made in deciphering the role of sequence-specific features as well as DNA-and RNA-binding proteins in alternative splicing. Recently, however, several experimental studies of individual genes have revealed a direct involvement of epigenetic factors in alternative splicing and transcription initiation. While histone modifications are generally correlated with overall gene expression levels, it remains unclear how histone modification enrichment affects relative isoform abundance. Therefore, we sought to investigate the associations between histone modifications and transcript diversity levels measured by the rates of transcription start-site switching and alternative splicing on a genome-wide scale across protein-coding genes and lincRNAs. We found that the relationship between enrichment levels of epigenetic marks and transcription start-site switching is similar for protein-coding genes and lincRNAs. Furthermore, we found associations between splicing rates and enrichment levels of H2az, H3K4me1, H3K4me2, H3K4me3, H3K9ac, H3K9me3, H3K27ac, H3K27me3, H3K36me3, H3K79me2, and H4K20me, marks traditionally associated with enhancers, transcription initiation, transcriptional repression, and others. These patterns were observed in both normal and cancer cell lines. Additionally, we developed a novel computational method that identified 840 epigenetically regulated candidate genes and predicted transcription start-site switching and alternative exon splicing with up to 92% accuracy based on epigenetic patterning alone. Our results suggest that the epigenetic regulation of transcript isoform diversity may be a relatively common genome-wide phenomenon representing an avenue of deregulation in tumor development.
Vomeronasal sensitivity is important for detecting intraspecific pheromonal cues as well as environmental odorants and is involved in mating, social interaction, and other daily activities of many vertebrates. Two large families of seven-transmembrane G-protein-coupled receptors, V1rs and V2rs, bind to various ligands to initiate vomeronasal signal transduction. Although the macroevolution of V1r and V2r genes has been well characterized throughout vertebrates, especially mammals, little is known about their microevolutionary patterns, which hampers a clear understanding of the evolutionary forces behind the rapid evolutionary turnover of V1r and V2r genes and the great diversity in receptor repertoire across species. Furthermore, the role of divergent vomeronasal perception in enhancing premating isolation and maintaining species identity has not been evaluated. Here we sequenced 44 V1r genes and 25 presumably neutral noncoding regions in 14 wild-caught mice belonging to Mus musculus and M. domesticus, two closely related species with strong yet incomplete reproductive isolation. We found that nucleotide changes in V1rs are generally under weak purifying selection and that only ?5% of V1rs may have been subject to positive selection that promotes nonsynonymous substitutions. Consistent with the low functional constraints on V1rs, 18 of the 44 V1rs have null alleles segregating in one or both species. Together, our results demonstrate that, despite occasional actions of positive selection, the evolution of V1rs is in a large part shaped by purifying selection and random drift. These findings have broad implications for understanding the driving forces of rapid gene turnovers that are often observed in the evolution of large gene families.
Non-traditional model systems need new tools that will enable them to enter the field of functional genetics. These tools should enable the exploration of gene function, via knock-downs of endogenous genes, as well as over-expression and ectopic expression of transgenes.
Although our knowledge of the genes and genomes of extinct organisms is improving as a result of progress in sequencing ancient DNA, the transcriptomes of extinct organisms remain inaccessible, owing to the rapid degradation of messenger RNA after death. We provide empirical evidence that gene expression levels in the reproductive tissues of mice and during early mouse development correlate highly with the rate of inherited retroposition: the source of processed pseudogenes in the genome. Thus, processed pseudogenes might serve as fossilized footprints of the expression of their parent genes, shedding light on ancient transcriptomes that could provide significant insights into the evolution of gene expression.
Phylogenetic analyses suggest that violations of "Dollos law"--that is, re-evolution of lost complex structures--do occur, albeit infrequently. However, the genetic basis of such reversals has not been examined. Here, we address this question using the Drosophila sex comb, a recently evolved, male-specific morphological structure composed of modified bristles. In some species, sex comb development involves only the modification of individual bristles, while other species have more complex "rotated" sex combs that are shaped by coordinated migration of epithelial tissues. Rotated sex combs were lost in the ananassae species subgroup and subsequently re-evolved, ?12 million years later, in Drosophila bipectinata and its sibling species. We examine the genetic basis of the differences in sex comb morphology between D. bipectinata and D. malerkotliana, a closely related species with a much simpler sex comb representing the ancestral condition. QTL mapping reveals that >50% of this difference is controlled by one chromosomal inversion that covers ?5% of the genome. Several other, larger inversions do not contribute appreciably to the phenotype. This genetic architecture suggests that rotating sex combs may have re-evolved through changes in relatively few genes. We discuss potential developmental mechanisms that may allow lost complex structures to be regained.
Human tumors result from an evolutionary process operating on somatic cells within tissues, whereby natural selection operates on the phenotypic variability generated by the accumulation of genetic, genomic and epigenetic alterations. This somatic evolution leads to adaptations such as increased proliferative, angiogenic, and invasive phenotypes. In this review we outline how cancer genomes are beginning to be investigated from an evolutionary perspective. We describe recent progress in the cataloging of somatic genetic and genomic alterations, and investigate the contributions of germline as well as epigenetic factors to cancer genome evolution. Finally, we outline the challenges facing researchers who investigate the processes driving the evolution of the cancer genome.
Metallothioneins (MTs) are a class of metal-binding proteins characterized by a high cysteine content and low molecular weight. MTs play an important role in metal metabolism and protect cells against the toxic effects of radiation, alkylating agents and oxygen free radicals. The evidence that individual genetic characteristics of MTs play an important role in physiological and pathological processes associated with antioxidant defense and detoxification inspired targeted studies of genetic polymorphisms in a clinical context. In recent years, common MT polymorphisms were identified and associated with, particularly, western lifestyle diseases such as cancer, complications of atherosclerosis, and type 2 diabetes mellitus along with related complications. This review summarizes all evidence regarding MT polymorphisms of major human MTs (MT1, MT2, MT3 and MT4), their relation to pathological processes, and outlines specific applications of MTs as a set of genetic markers for certain pathologies.
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