To understand the hierarchy of life in evolutionary terms, we must explain why groups of one kind of individual, say cells, evolve into a new higher level individual, a multicellular organism. A fundamental step in this process is the division of labor into nonreproductive altruistic soma. The regA gene is critical for somatic differentiation in Volvox carteri, a multicellular species of volvocine algae. We report the sequence of regA-like genes and several syntenic markers from divergent species of Volvox. We show that regA evolved early in the volvocines and predict that lineages with and without soma descended from a regA-containing ancestor. We hypothesize an alternate evolutionary history of regA than the prevailing "proto-regA" hypothesis. The variation in presence of soma may be explained by multiple lineages independently evolving soma utilizing regA or alternate genetic pathways. Our prediction that the genetic basis for soma exists in species without somatic cells raises a number of questions, most fundamentally, under what conditions would species with the genetic potential for soma, and hence greater individuality, not evolve these traits. We conclude that the evolution of individuality in the volvocine algae is more complicated and labile than previously appreciated on theoretical grounds.
Heteromorphic sex-determining regions or mating-type loci can contain large regions of non-recombining sequence where selection operates under different constraints than in freely recombining autosomal regions. Detailed studies of these non-recombining regions can provide insights into how genes are gained and lost, and how genetic isolation is maintained between mating haplotypes or sex chromosomes. The Chlamydomonas reinhardtii mating-type locus (MT) is a complex polygenic region characterized by sequence rearrangements and suppressed recombination between its two haplotypes, MT+ and MT-. We used new sequence information to redefine the genetic contents of MT and found repeated translocations from autosomes as well as sexually controlled expression patterns for several newly identified genes. We examined sequence diversity of MT genes from wild isolates of C. reinhardtii to investigate the impacts of recombination suppression. Our population data revealed two previously unreported types of genetic exchange in Chlamydomonas MT--gene conversion in the rearranged domains, and crossover exchanges in flanking domains--both of which contribute to maintenance of genetic homogeneity between haplotypes. To investigate the cause of blocked recombination in MT we assessed recombination rates in crosses where the parents were homozygous at MT. While normal recombination was restored in MT+ ×MT+ crosses, it was still suppressed in MT- ×MT- crosses. These data revealed an underlying asymmetry in the two MT haplotypes and suggest that sequence rearrangements are insufficient to fully account for recombination suppression. Together our findings reveal new evolutionary dynamics for mating loci and have implications for the evolution of heteromorphic sex chromosomes and other non-recombining genomic regions.
It has been argued that for certain lineages, noncoding DNA expansion is a consequence of the increased random genetic drift associated with long-term escalations in organism size. But a lack of data has prevented the investigation of this hypothesis in most plastid-bearing protists. Here, using newly sequenced mitochondrial and plastid genomes, we explore the relationship between organelle DNA noncoding content and organism size within volvocine green algae. By looking at unicellular, colonial, and differentiated multicellular algae, we show that organelle DNA complexity scales positively with species size and cell number across the volvocine lineage. Moreover, silent-site genetic diversity data suggest that the volvocine species with the largest cell numbers and most bloated organelle genomes have the smallest effective population sizes. Together, these findings support the view that nonadaptive processes, like random genetic drift, promote the expansion of noncoding regions in organelle genomes.
Isogamous organisms lack obvious cytological differences in the gametes of the two complementary mating types. Consequently, it is difficult to ascertain which of the two mating types are homologous when comparing related but sexual isolated strains or species. The colonial volvocalean algal genus Gonium consists of such isogamous organisms with heterothallic mating types designated arbitrarily as plus or minus in addition to homothallic strains. Homologous molecular markers among lineages may provide an "objective" framework to assign heterothallic mating types.
The multicellular green alga Volvox carteri and its morphologically diverse close relatives (the volvocine algae) are well suited for the investigation of the evolution of multicellularity and development. We sequenced the 138-mega-base pair genome of V. carteri and compared its approximately 14,500 predicted proteins to those of its unicellular relative Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Despite fundamental differences in organismal complexity and life history, the two species have similar protein-coding potentials and few species-specific protein-coding gene predictions. Volvox is enriched in volvocine-algal-specific proteins, including those associated with an expanded and highly compartmentalized extracellular matrix. Our analysis shows that increases in organismal complexity can be associated with modifications of lineage-specific proteins rather than large-scale invention of protein-coding capacity.
Although dimorphic sexes have evolved repeatedly in multicellular eukaryotes, their origins are unknown. The mating locus (MT) of the sexually dimorphic multicellular green alga Volvox carteri specifies the production of eggs and sperm and has undergone a remarkable expansion and divergence relative to MT from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, which is a closely related unicellular species that has equal-sized gametes. Transcriptome analysis revealed a rewired gametic expression program for Volvox MT genes relative to Chlamydomonas and identified multiple gender-specific and sex-regulated transcripts. The retinoblastoma tumor suppressor homolog MAT3 is a Volvox MT gene that displays sexually regulated alternative splicing and evidence of gender-specific selection, both of which are indicative of cooption into the sexual cycle. Thus, sex-determining loci affect the evolution of both sex-related and non-sex-related genes.
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