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1.  Transcriptional Interference Promotes Rapid Expression Divergence of Drosophila Nested Genes 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2016;8(10):3149-3158.
Nested genes are the most common form of protein-coding overlap in eukaryotic genomes. Previous studies have shown that nested genes accumulate rapidly over evolutionary time, typically via the insertion of short young duplicate genes into long introns. However, the evolutionary relationship between nested genes remains unclear. Here, I compare RNA-seq expression profiles of nested, proximal intra-chromosomal, intermediate intra-chromosomal, distant intra-chromosomal, and inter-chromosomal gene pairs in two Drosophila species. I find that expression profiles of nested genes are more divergent than those of any other class of genes, supporting the hypothesis that concurrent expression of nested genes is deleterious due to transcriptional interference. Further analysis reveals that expression profiles of derived nested genes are more divergent than those of their ancestral un-nested orthologs, which are more divergent than those of un-nested genes with similar genomic features. Thus, gene expression divergence between nested genes is likely caused by selection against nesting of genes with insufficiently divergent expression profiles, as well as by continued expression divergence after nesting. Moreover, expression divergence and sequence evolutionary rates are elevated in young nested genes and reduced in old nested genes, indicating that a burst of rapid evolution occurs after nesting. Together, these findings suggest that similarity between expression profiles of nested genes is deleterious due to transcriptional interference, and that natural selection addresses this problem both by eradicating highly deleterious nestings and by enabling rapid expression divergence of surviving nested genes, thereby quickly limiting or abolishing transcriptional interference.
PMCID: PMC5174743  PMID: 27664180
nested genes; overlapping genes; transcriptional interference; gene expression evolution
2.  The Evolution and Functional Significance of Nested Gene Structures in Drosophila melanogaster 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2013;5(10):1978-1985.
Nearly 10% of the genes in the genome of Drosophila melanogaster are in nested structures, in which one gene is completely nested within the intron of another gene (nested and including gene, respectively). Even though the coding sequences and untranslated regions of these nested/including gene pairs do not overlap, their intimate structures and the possibility of shared regulatory sequences raise questions about the evolutionary forces governing the origination and subsequent functional and evolutionary impacts of these structures. In this study, we show that nested genes experience weaker evolutionary constraint, have faster rates of protein evolution, and are expressed in fewer tissues than other genes, while including genes show the opposite patterns. Surprisingly, despite completely overlapping with each other, nested and including genes are less likely to display correlated gene expression and biological function than the nearby yet nonoverlapping genes. Interestingly, significantly fewer nested genes are transcribed from the same strand as the including gene. We found that same-strand nested genes are more likely to be single-exon genes. In addition, same-strand including genes are less likely to have known lethal or sterile phenotypes than opposite-strand including genes only when the corresponding nested genes have introns. These results support our hypothesis that selection against potential erroneous mRNA splicing when nested and including genes are on the same strand plays an important role in the evolution of nested gene structures.
PMCID: PMC3814207  PMID: 24084778
nested genes; overlapping genes; splicing; gene expression; gene organization
3.  A remarkably stable TipE gene cluster: evolution of insect Para sodium channel auxiliary subunits 
First identified in fruit flies with temperature-sensitive paralysis phenotypes, the Drosophila melanogaster TipE locus encodes four voltage-gated sodium (NaV) channel auxiliary subunits. This cluster of TipE-like genes on chromosome 3L, and a fifth family member on chromosome 3R, are important for the optional expression and functionality of the Para NaV channel but appear quite distinct from auxiliary subunits in vertebrates. Here, we exploited available arthropod genomic resources to trace the origin of TipE-like genes by mapping their evolutionary histories and examining their genomic architectures.
We identified a remarkably conserved synteny block of TipE-like orthologues with well-maintained local gene arrangements from 21 insect species. Homologues in the water flea, Daphnia pulex, suggest an ancestral pancrustacean repertoire of four TipE-like genes; a subsequent gene duplication may have generated functional redundancy allowing gene losses in the silk moth and mosquitoes. Intronic nesting of the insect TipE gene cluster probably occurred following the divergence from crustaceans, but in the flour beetle and silk moth genomes the clusters apparently escaped from nesting. Across Pancrustacea, TipE gene family members have experienced intronic nesting, escape from nesting, retrotransposition, translocation, and gene loss events while generally maintaining their local gene neighbourhoods. D. melanogaster TipE-like genes exhibit coordinated spatial and temporal regulation of expression distinct from their host gene but well-correlated with their regulatory target, the Para NaV channel, suggesting that functional constraints may preserve the TipE gene cluster. We identified homology between TipE-like NaV channel regulators and vertebrate Slo-beta auxiliary subunits of big-conductance calcium-activated potassium (BKCa) channels, which suggests that ion channel regulatory partners have evolved distinct lineage-specific characteristics.
TipE-like genes form a remarkably conserved genomic cluster across all examined insect genomes. This study reveals likely structural and functional constraints on the genomic evolution of insect TipE gene family members maintained in synteny over hundreds of millions of years of evolution. The likely common origin of these NaV channel regulators with BKCa auxiliary subunits highlights the evolutionary plasticity of ion channel regulatory mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3240667  PMID: 22098672
4.  Origin and evolution of spliceosomal introns 
Biology Direct  2012;7:11.
Evolution of exon-intron structure of eukaryotic genes has been a matter of long-standing, intensive debate. The introns-early concept, later rebranded ‘introns first’ held that protein-coding genes were interrupted by numerous introns even at the earliest stages of life's evolution and that introns played a major role in the origin of proteins by facilitating recombination of sequences coding for small protein/peptide modules. The introns-late concept held that introns emerged only in eukaryotes and new introns have been accumulating continuously throughout eukaryotic evolution. Analysis of orthologous genes from completely sequenced eukaryotic genomes revealed numerous shared intron positions in orthologous genes from animals and plants and even between animals, plants and protists, suggesting that many ancestral introns have persisted since the last eukaryotic common ancestor (LECA). Reconstructions of intron gain and loss using the growing collection of genomes of diverse eukaryotes and increasingly advanced probabilistic models convincingly show that the LECA and the ancestors of each eukaryotic supergroup had intron-rich genes, with intron densities comparable to those in the most intron-rich modern genomes such as those of vertebrates. The subsequent evolution in most lineages of eukaryotes involved primarily loss of introns, with only a few episodes of substantial intron gain that might have accompanied major evolutionary innovations such as the origin of metazoa. The original invasion of self-splicing Group II introns, presumably originating from the mitochondrial endosymbiont, into the genome of the emerging eukaryote might have been a key factor of eukaryogenesis that in particular triggered the origin of endomembranes and the nucleus. Conversely, splicing errors gave rise to alternative splicing, a major contribution to the biological complexity of multicellular eukaryotes. There is no indication that any prokaryote has ever possessed a spliceosome or introns in protein-coding genes, other than relatively rare mobile self-splicing introns. Thus, the introns-first scenario is not supported by any evidence but exon-intron structure of protein-coding genes appears to have evolved concomitantly with the eukaryotic cell, and introns were a major factor of evolution throughout the history of eukaryotes. This article was reviewed by I. King Jordan, Manuel Irimia (nominated by Anthony Poole), Tobias Mourier (nominated by Anthony Poole), and Fyodor Kondrashov. For the complete reports, see the Reviewers’ Reports section.
PMCID: PMC3488318  PMID: 22507701
Intron sliding; Intron gain; Intron loss; Spliceosome; Splicing signals; Evolution of exon/intron structure; Alternative splicing; Phylogenetic trees; Mobile domains; Eukaryotic ancestor
5.  Evolutionary Convergence on Highly-Conserved 3′ Intron Structures in Intron-Poor Eukaryotes and Insights into the Ancestral Eukaryotic Genome 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(8):e1000148.
The presence of spliceosomal introns in eukaryotes raises a range of questions about genomic evolution. Along with the fundamental mysteries of introns' initial proliferation and persistence, the evolutionary forces acting on intron sequences remain largely mysterious. Intron number varies across species from a few introns per genome to several introns per gene, and the elements of intron sequences directly implicated in splicing vary from degenerate to strict consensus motifs. We report a 50-species comparative genomic study of intron sequences across most eukaryotic groups. We find two broad and striking patterns. First, we find that some highly intron-poor lineages have undergone evolutionary convergence to strong 3′ consensus intron structures. This finding holds for both branch point sequence and distance between the branch point and the 3′ splice site. Interestingly, this difference appears to exist within the genomes of green alga of the genus Ostreococcus, which exhibit highly constrained intron sequences through most of the intron-poor genome, but not in one much more intron-dense genomic region. Second, we find evidence that ancestral genomes contained highly variable branch point sequences, similar to more complex modern intron-rich eukaryotic lineages. In addition, ancestral structures are likely to have included polyT tails similar to those in metazoans and plants, which we found in a variety of protist lineages. Intriguingly, intron structure evolution appears to be quite different across lineages experiencing different types of genome reduction: whereas lineages with very few introns tend towards highly regular intronic sequences, lineages with very short introns tend towards highly degenerate sequences. Together, these results attest to the complex nature of ancestral eukaryotic splicing, the qualitatively different evolutionary forces acting on intron structures across modern lineages, and the impressive evolutionary malleability of eukaryotic gene structures.
Author Summary
The spliceosomal introns that interrupt eukaryotic genes show great number and sequence variation across species, from the rare, highly uniform yeast introns to the ubiquitous and highly variable vertebrate intron sequences. The causes of these differences remain mysterious. We studied sequences of intron branch points and 3′ termini in 50 eukaryotic species. All intron-rich species exhibit variable 3′ sequences. However, intron-poor species range from variable sequences, to uniform branch point motifs, to uniform branch point motifs in uniform positions along the intronic sequence. This is a more complex pattern than the clear relationship between intron number and 5′ intron sequence uniformity found previously. The correspondence of sequence uniformity and intron number extends to species of the green algal genus Ostreococcus, in which the single intron-rich genomic region shows far more variable intron sequences than in the otherwise intron-poor genome. We suggest that different concentrations of spliceosomal complexes may explain these differences. In addition, we report the existence of 3′ polyT tails in diverse eukaryotic protists, suggesting that this structure is ancestral. Together, these results underscore the complexity of ancestral eukaryotic splicing, the qualitatively different evolutionary forces acting on intron sequences in modern eukaryotes, and the impressive evolutionary malleability of eukaryotic genes.
PMCID: PMC2483917  PMID: 18688272
6.  Intronic L1 Retrotransposons and Nested Genes Cause Transcriptional Interference by Inducing Intron Retention, Exonization and Cryptic Polyadenylation 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26099.
Transcriptional interference has been recently recognized as an unexpectedly complex and mostly negative regulation of genes. Despite a relatively few studies that emerged in recent years, it has been demonstrated that a readthrough transcription derived from one gene can influence the transcription of another overlapping or nested gene. However, the molecular effects resulting from this interaction are largely unknown.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Using in silico chromosome walking, we searched for prematurely terminated transcripts bearing signatures of intron retention or exonization of intronic sequence at their 3′ ends upstream to human L1 retrotransposons, protein-coding and noncoding nested genes. We demonstrate that transcriptional interference induced by intronic L1s (or other repeated DNAs) and nested genes could be characterized by intron retention, forced exonization and cryptic polyadenylation. These molecular effects were revealed from the analysis of endogenous transcripts derived from different cell lines and tissues and confirmed by the expression of three minigenes in cell culture. While intron retention and exonization were comparably observed in introns upstream to L1s, forced exonization was preferentially detected in nested genes. Transcriptional interference induced by L1 or nested genes was dependent on the presence or absence of cryptic splice sites, affected the inclusion or exclusion of the upstream exon and the use of cryptic polyadenylation signals.
Our results suggest that transcriptional interference induced by intronic L1s and nested genes could influence the transcription of the large number of genes in normal as well as in tumor tissues. Therefore, this type of interference could have a major impact on the regulation of the host gene expression.
PMCID: PMC3192792  PMID: 22022525
7.  Origin and Loss of Nested LRRTM/α-Catenin Genes during Vertebrate Evolution 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89910.
Leucine-rich repeat transmembrane neuronal proteins (LRRTMs) form in mammals a family of four postsynaptic adhesion proteins, which have been shown to bind neurexins and heparan sulphate proteoglycan (HSPG) glypican on the presynaptic side. Mutations in the genes encoding LRRTMs and neurexins are implicated in human cognitive disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. Our analysis shows that in most jawed vertebrates, lrrtm1, lrrtm2, and lrrtm3 genes are nested on opposite strands of large conserved intron of α-catenin genes ctnna2, ctnna1, and ctnna3, respectively. No lrrtm genes could be found in tunicates or lancelets, while two lrrtm genes are found in the lamprey genome, one of which is adjacent to a single ctnna homolog. Based on similar highly positive net charge of lamprey LRRTMs and the HSPG-binding LRRTM3 and LRRTM4 proteins, we speculate that the ancestral LRRTM might have bound HSPG before acquiring neurexins as binding partners. Our model suggests that lrrtm gene translocated into the large ctnna intron in early vertebrates, and that subsequent duplications resulted in three lrrtm/ctnna gene pairs present in most jawed vertebrates. However, we detected three prominent exceptions: (1) the lrrtm3/ctnna3 gene structure is absent in the ray-finned fish genomes, (2) the genomes of clawed frogs contain ctnna1 but lack the corresponding nested (lrrtm2) gene, and (3) contain lrrtm3 gene in the syntenic position but lack the corresponding host (ctnna3) gene. We identified several other protein-coding nested gene structures of which either the host or the nested gene has presumably been lost in the frog or chicken lineages. Interestingly, majority of these nested genes comprise LRR domains.
PMCID: PMC3933685  PMID: 24587117
8.  A Detailed History of Intron-rich Eukaryotic Ancestors Inferred from a Global Survey of 100 Complete Genomes 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(9):e1002150.
Protein-coding genes in eukaryotes are interrupted by introns, but intron densities widely differ between eukaryotic lineages. Vertebrates, some invertebrates and green plants have intron-rich genes, with 6–7 introns per kilobase of coding sequence, whereas most of the other eukaryotes have intron-poor genes. We reconstructed the history of intron gain and loss using a probabilistic Markov model (Markov Chain Monte Carlo, MCMC) on 245 orthologous genes from 99 genomes representing the three of the five supergroups of eukaryotes for which multiple genome sequences are available. Intron-rich ancestors are confidently reconstructed for each major group, with 53 to 74% of the human intron density inferred with 95% confidence for the Last Eukaryotic Common Ancestor (LECA). The results of the MCMC reconstruction are compared with the reconstructions obtained using Maximum Likelihood (ML) and Dollo parsimony methods. An excellent agreement between the MCMC and ML inferences is demonstrated whereas Dollo parsimony introduces a noticeable bias in the estimations, typically yielding lower ancestral intron densities than MCMC and ML. Evolution of eukaryotic genes was dominated by intron loss, with substantial gain only at the bases of several major branches including plants and animals. The highest intron density, 120 to 130% of the human value, is inferred for the last common ancestor of animals. The reconstruction shows that the entire line of descent from LECA to mammals was intron-rich, a state conducive to the evolution of alternative splicing.
Author Summary
In eukaryotes, protein-coding genes are interrupted by non-coding introns. The intron densities widely differ, from 6–7 introns per kilobase of coding sequence in vertebrates, some invertebrates and plants, to only a few introns across the entire genome in many unicellular forms. We applied a robust statistical methodology, Markov Chain Monte Carlo, to reconstruct the history of intron gain and loss throughout the evolution of eukaryotes using a set of 245 homologous genes from 99 genomes that represent the diversity of eukaryotes. Intron-rich ancestors were confidently inferred for each major eukaryotic group including 53% to 74% of the human intron density for the last eukaryotic common ancestor, and 120% to 130% of the human value for the last common ancestor of animals. Evolution of eukaryotic genes involved primarily intron loss, with substantial gain only at the bases of several major branches including plants and animals. Thus, the common ancestor of all extant eukaryotes was a complex organism with a gene architecture resembling those in multicellular organisms. The line of descent from the last common ancestor to mammals was an uninterrupted intron-rich state that, given the error-prone splicing in intron-rich organisms, was conducive to the elaboration of functional alternative splicing.
PMCID: PMC3174169  PMID: 21935348
9.  Unconventional Genomic Architecture in the Budding Yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae Masks the Nested Antisense Gene NAG1▿ †  
Eukaryotic Cell  2008;7(8):1289-1298.
The genomic architecture of the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is typical of other eukaryotes in that genes are spatially organized into discrete and nonoverlapping units. Inherent in this organizational model is the assumption that protein-coding sequences do not overlap completely. Here, we present evidence to the contrary, defining a previously overlooked yeast gene, NAG1 (for nested antisense gene) nested entirely within the coding sequence of the YGR031W open reading frame in an antisense orientation on the opposite strand. NAG1 encodes a 19-kDa protein, detected by Western blotting of hemagglutinin (HA)-tagged Nag1p with anti-HA antibodies and by β-galactosidase analysis of a NAG1-lacZ fusion. NAG1 is evolutionarily conserved as a unit with YGR031W in bacteria and fungi. Unlike the YGR031WP protein product, however, which localizes to the mitochondria, Nag1p localizes to the cell periphery, exhibiting properties consistent with those of a plasma membrane protein. Phenotypic analysis of a site-directed mutant (nag1-1) disruptive for NAG1 but silent with respect to YGR031W, defines a role for NAG1 in yeast cell wall biogenesis; microarray profiling of nag1-1 indicates decreased expression of genes contributing to cell wall organization, and the nag1-1 mutant is hypersensitive to the cell wall-perturbing agent calcofluor white. Furthermore, production of Nag1p is dependent upon the presence of the cell wall integrity pathway mitogen-activated protein kinase Slt2p and its downstream transcription factor Rlm1p. Thus, NAG1 is important for two reasons. First, it contributes to yeast cell wall biogenesis. Second, its genomic context is novel, raising the possibility that other nested protein-coding genes may exist in eukaryotic genomes.
PMCID: PMC2519765  PMID: 18310357
10.  Drosophila Functional Elements Are Embedded in Structurally Constrained Sequences 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(5):e1003512.
Modern functional genomics uncovered numerous functional elements in metazoan genomes. Nevertheless, only a small fraction of the typical non-exonic genome contains elements that code for function directly. On the other hand, a much larger fraction of the genome is associated with significant evolutionary constraints, suggesting that much of the non-exonic genome is weakly functional. Here we show that in flies, local (30–70 bp) conserved sequence elements that are associated with multiple regulatory functions serve as focal points to a pattern of punctuated regional increase in G/C nucleotide frequencies. We show that this pattern, which covers a region tenfold larger than the conserved elements themselves, is an evolutionary consequence of a shift in the balance between gain and loss of G/C nucleotides and that it is correlated with nucleosome occupancy across multiple classes of epigenetic state. Evidence for compensatory evolution and analysis of SNP allele frequencies show that the evolutionary regime underlying this balance shift is likely to be non-neutral. These data suggest that current gaps in our understanding of genome function and evolutionary dynamics are explicable by a model of sparse sequence elements directly encoding for function, embedded into structural sequences that help to define the local and global epigenomic context of such functional elements.
Author Summary
A key challenge in functional genomics is to predict evolutionary dynamics from functional annotation of the genome and vice versa. Modern epigenomic studies helped assign function to numerous new sequence elements, but left most of the genome essentially uncharacterized. Evolutionary genomics, on the other hand, consistently suggests that a much larger fraction of the un-annotated genome evolves under selective pressure. We hypothesize that this function-selection gap can be attributed to sequences that facilitate the physical organization of functional elements, such as transcription factor binding sites, within chromosomes. We exemplify this by studying in detail the sequences embedding small conserved elements (CEs) in Drosophila. We show that, while CEs have typically high AT content, high GC content levels around them are maintained by a non-neutral evolutionary balance between gain and loss of GC nucleotides. This non-uniform pattern is highly correlated with nucleosome organization around CEs, potentially imposing an evolutionary constraint on as much as one quarter of the genome. We suggest this can at least partly explain the above function-selection gap. Weak evolutionary constraints on “structural” sequences (at scales ranging from one nucleosome to recently described multi-megabase topological domains) may affect genome evolution just like structural motifs shape protein evolution.
PMCID: PMC3671938  PMID: 23750124
11.  Eleven ancestral gene families lost in mammals and vertebrates while otherwise universally conserved in animals 
Gene losses played a role which may have been as important as gene and genome duplications and rearrangements, in modelling today species' genomes from a common ancestral set of genes. The set and diversity of protein-coding genes in a species has direct output at the functional level. While gene losses have been reported in all the major lineages of the metazoan tree of life, none have proposed a focus on specific losses in the vertebrates and mammals lineages. In contrast, genes lost in protostomes (i.e. arthropods and nematodes) but still present in vertebrates have been reported and extensively detailed. This probable over-anthropocentric way of comparing genomes does not consider as an important phenomena, gene losses in species that are usually described as "higher". However reporting universally conserved genes throughout evolution that have recently been lost in vertebrates and mammals could reveal interesting features about the evolution of our genome, particularly if these losses can be related to losses of capability.
We report 11 gene families conserved throughout eukaryotes from yeasts (such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae) to bilaterian animals (such as Drosophila melanogaster or Caenorhabditis elegans). This evolutionarily wide conservation suggests they were present in the last common ancestors of fungi and metazoan animals. None of these 11 gene families are found in human nor mouse genomes, and their absence generally extends to all vertebrates. A total of 8 out of these 11 gene families have orthologs in plants, suggesting they were present in the Last Eukaryotic Common Ancestor (LECA). We investigated known functional information for these 11 gene families. This allowed us to correlate some of the lost gene families to loss of capabilities.
Mammalian and vertebrate genomes lost evolutionary conserved ancestral genes that are probably otherwise not dispensable in eukaryotes. Hence, the human genome, which is generally viewed as being the result of increased complexity and gene-content, has also evolved through simplification and gene losses. This acknowledgement confirms, as already suggested, that the genome of our far ancestor was probably more complex than ever considered.
PMCID: PMC1382263  PMID: 16420703
12.  Family Size and Turnover Rates among Several Classes of Small Non–Protein-Coding RNA Genes in Caenorhabditis Nematodes 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2012;4(4):565-574.
It is important to understand the forces that shape the size and evolutionary histories of gene families. Here, we investigated the evolution of non–protein-coding RNA genes in the genomes of Caenorhabditis nematodes. We specifically focused on nested arrangements, that is, cases in which an RNA gene is entirely contained in an intron of another gene. Comparing these arrangements between species simplifies the inference of orthology and, therefore, of evolutionary fates of nested genes. Two distinct patterns are evident in the data. Genes encoding small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs) and transfer RNAs form large families, which have persisted since before the common ancestor of Metazoa. Yet, individual genes die relatively rapidly, with few orthologs having survived since the divergence of Caenorhabditis elegans and Caenorhabditis briggsae. In contrast, genes encoding small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs) are either single-copy or form small families. Individual snoRNAs turn over at a relatively slow rate—most C. elegans genes have clearly identifiable orthologs in C. briggsae. We also found that in Drosophila, genes from larger snRNA families die at a faster rate than their counterparts from single-gene families. These results suggest that a relationship between family size and the rate of gene turnover may be a general feature of genome evolution.
PMCID: PMC3342880  PMID: 22467905
birth-and-death; gene family; evolution; small RNA; nested genes; C. elegans
13.  Programmed fluctuations in sense/antisense transcript ratios drive sexual differentiation in S. pombe 
Strand-specific RNA sequencing of S. pombe reveals a highly structured programme of ncRNA expression at over 600 loci. Functional investigations show that this extensive ncRNA landscape controls the complex programme of sexual differentiation in S. pombe.
The model eukaryote S. pombe features substantial numbers of ncRNAs many of which are antisense regulatory transcripts (ARTs), ncRNAs expressed on the opposing strand to coding sequences.Individual ARTs are generated during the mitotic cycle, or at discrete stages of sexual differentiation to downregulate the levels of proteins that drive and coordinate sexual differentiation.Antisense transcription occurring from events such as bidirectional transcription is not simply artefactual ‘chatter', it performs a critical role in regulating gene expression.
Regulation of the RNA profile is a principal control driving sexual differentiation in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Before transcription, RNAi-mediated formation of heterochromatin is used to suppress expression, while post-transcription, regulation is achieved via the active stabilisation or destruction of transcripts, and through at least two distinct types of splicing control (Mata et al, 2002; Shimoseki and Shimoda, 2001; Averbeck et al, 2005; Mata and Bähler, 2006; Xue-Franzen et al, 2006; Moldon et al, 2008; Djupedal et al, 2009; Amorim et al, 2010; Grewal, 2010; Cremona et al, 2011).
Around 94% of the S. pombe genome is transcribed (Wilhelm et al, 2008). While many of these transcripts encode proteins (Wood et al, 2002; Bitton et al, 2011), the majority have no known function. We used a strand-specific protocol to sequence total RNA extracts taken from vegetatively growing cells, and at different points during a time course of sexual differentiation. The resulting data redefined existing gene coordinates and identified additional transcribed loci. The frequency of reads at each of these was used to monitor transcript abundance.
Transcript levels at 6599 loci changed in at least one sample (G-statistic; False Discovery Rate <5%). 4231 (72.3%), of which 4011 map to protein-coding genes, while 809 loci were antisense to a known gene. Comparisons between haploid and diploid strains identified changes in transcript levels at over 1000 loci.
At 354 loci, greater antisense abundance was observed relative to sense, in at least one sample (putative antisense regulatory transcripts—ARTs). Since antisense mechanisms are known to modulate sense transcript expression through a variety of inhibitory mechanisms (Faghihi and Wahlestedt, 2009), we postulated that the waves of antisense expression activated at different stages during meiosis might be regulating protein expression.
To ask whether transcription factors that drive sense-transcript levels influenced ART production, we performed RNA-seq of a pat1.114 diploid meiosis in the absence of the transcription factors Atf21 and Atf31 (responsible for late meiotic transcription; Mata et al, 2002). Transcript levels at 185 ncRNA loci showed significant changes in the knockout backgrounds. Although meiotic progression is largely unaffected by removal of Atf21 and Atf31, viability of the resulting spores was significantly diminished, indicating that Atf21- and Atf31-mediated events are critical to efficient sexual differentiation.
If changes to relative antisense/sense transcript levels during a particular phase of sexual differentiation were to regulate protein expression, then the continued presence of the antisense at points in the differentiation programme where it would normally be absent should abolish protein function during this phase. We tested this hypothesis at four loci representing the three means of antisense production: convergent gene expression, improper termination and nascent transcription from an independent locus. Induction of the natural antisense transcripts that opposed spo4+, spo6+ and dis1+ (Figures 3 and 7) in trans from a heterologous locus phenocopied a loss of function of the target protein. ART overexpression decreased Dis1 protein levels. Antisense transcription opposing spk1+ originated from improper termination of the sense ups1+ transcript on the opposite strand (Figure 3B, left locus). Expression of either the natural full-length ups1+ transcript or a truncated version, restricted to the portion of ups1+ overlapping spk1+ (Figure 3, orange transcripts) in trans from a heterologous locus phenocopied the spk1.Δ differentiation deficiency. Convergent transcription from a neighbouring gene on the opposing strand is, therefore, an effective mechanism to generate RNAi-mediated (below) silencing in fission yeast. Further analysis of the data revealed, for many loci, substantial changes in UTR length over the course of meiosis, suggesting that UTR dynamics may have an active role in regulating gene expression by controlling the transcriptional overlap between convergent adjacent gene pairs.
The RNAi machinery (Grewal, 2010) was required for antisense suppression at each of the dis1, spk1, spo4 and spo6 loci, as antisense to each locus had no impact in ago1.Δ, dcr1.Δ and rdp1.Δ backgrounds. We conclude that RNAi control has a key role in maintaining the fidelity of sexual differentiation in fission yeast. The histone H3 methyl transferase Clr4 was required for antisense control from a heterologous locus.
Thus, a significant portion of the impact of ncRNA upon sexual differentiation arises from antisense gene silencing. Importantly, in contrast to the extensively characterised ability of the RNAi machinery to operate in cis at a target locus in S. pombe (Grewal, 2010), each case of gene silencing generated here could be achieved in trans by expression of the antisense transcript from a single heterologous locus elsewhere in the genome.
Integration of an antibiotic marker gene immediately downstream of the dis1+ locus instigated antisense control in an orientation-dependent manner. PCR-based gene tagging approaches are widely used to fuse the coding sequences of epitope or protein tags to a gene of interest. Not only do these tagging approaches disrupt normal 3′UTR controls, but the insertion of a heterologous marker gene immediately downstream of an ORF can clearly have a significant impact upon transcriptional control of the resulting fusion protein. Thus, PCR tagging approaches can no longer be viewed as benign manipulations of a locus that only result in the production of a tagged protein product.
Repression of Dis1 function by gene deletion or antisense control revealed a key role this conserved microtubule regulator in driving the horsetail nuclear migrations that promote recombination during meiotic prophase.
Non-coding transcripts have often been viewed as simple ‘chatter', maintained solely because evolutionary pressures have not been strong enough to force their elimination from the system. Our data show that phenomena such as improper termination and bidirectional transcription are not simply interesting artifacts arising from the complexities of transcription or genome history, but have a critical role in regulating gene expression in the current genome. Given the widespread use of RNAi, it is reasonable to anticipate that future analyses will establish ARTs to have equal importance in other organisms, including vertebrates.
These data highlight the need to modify our concept of a gene from that of a spatially distinct locus. This view is becoming increasingly untenable. Not only are the 5′ and 3′ ends of many genes indistinct, but that this lack of a hard and fast boundary is actively used by cells to control the transcription of adjacent and overlapping loci, and thus to regulate critical events in the life of a cell.
Strand-specific RNA sequencing of S. pombe revealed a highly structured programme of ncRNA expression at over 600 loci. Waves of antisense transcription accompanied sexual differentiation. A substantial proportion of ncRNA arose from mechanisms previously considered to be largely artefactual, including improper 3′ termination and bidirectional transcription. Constitutive induction of the entire spk1+, spo4+, dis1+ and spo6+ antisense transcripts from an integrated, ectopic, locus disrupted their respective meiotic functions. This ability of antisense transcripts to disrupt gene function when expressed in trans suggests that cis production at native loci during sexual differentiation may also control gene function. Consistently, insertion of a marker gene adjacent to the dis1+ antisense start site mimicked ectopic antisense expression in reducing the levels of this microtubule regulator and abolishing the microtubule-dependent ‘horsetail' stage of meiosis. Antisense production had no impact at any of these loci when the RNA interference (RNAi) machinery was removed. Thus, far from being simply ‘genome chatter', this extensive ncRNA landscape constitutes a fundamental component in the controls that drive the complex programme of sexual differentiation in S. pombe.
PMCID: PMC3738847  PMID: 22186733
antisense; meiosis; ncRNA; S. pombe; siRNA
14.  The origin of introns and their role in eukaryogenesis: a compromise solution to the introns-early versus introns-late debate? 
Biology Direct  2006;1:22.
Ever since the discovery of 'genes in pieces' and mRNA splicing in eukaryotes, origin and evolution of spliceosomal introns have been considered within the conceptual framework of the 'introns early' versus 'introns late' debate. The 'introns early' hypothesis, which is closely linked to the so-called exon theory of gene evolution, posits that protein-coding genes were interrupted by numerous introns even at the earliest stages of life's evolution and that introns played a major role in the origin of proteins by facilitating recombination of sequences coding for small protein/peptide modules. Under this scenario, the absence of spliceosomal introns in prokaryotes is considered to be a result of "genome streamlining". The 'introns late' hypothesis counters that spliceosomal introns emerged only in eukaryotes, and moreover, have been inserted into protein-coding genes continuously throughout the evolution of eukaryotes. Beyond the formal dilemma, the more substantial side of this debate has to do with possible roles of introns in the evolution of eukaryotes.
I argue that several lines of evidence now suggest a coherent solution to the introns-early versus introns-late debate, and the emerging picture of intron evolution integrates aspects of both views although, formally, there seems to be no support for the original version of introns-early. Firstly, there is growing evidence that spliceosomal introns evolved from group II self-splicing introns which are present, usually, in small numbers, in many bacteria, and probably, moved into the evolving eukaryotic genome from the α-proteobacterial progenitor of the mitochondria. Secondly, the concept of a primordial pool of 'virus-like' genetic elements implies that self-splicing introns are among the most ancient genetic entities. Thirdly, reconstructions of the ancestral state of eukaryotic genes suggest that the last common ancestor of extant eukaryotes had an intron-rich genome. Thus, it appears that ancestors of spliceosomal introns, indeed, have existed since the earliest stages of life's evolution, in a formal agreement with the introns-early scenario. However, there is no evidence that these ancient introns ever became widespread before the emergence of eukaryotes, hence, the central tenet of introns-early, the role of introns in early evolution of proteins, has no support. However, the demonstration that numerous introns invaded eukaryotic genes at the outset of eukaryotic evolution and that subsequent intron gain has been limited in many eukaryotic lineages implicates introns as an ancestral feature of eukaryotic genomes and refutes radical versions of introns-late. Perhaps, most importantly, I argue that the intron invasion triggered other pivotal events of eukaryogenesis, including the emergence of the spliceosome, the nucleus, the linear chromosomes, the telomerase, and the ubiquitin signaling system. This concept of eukaryogenesis, in a sense, revives some tenets of the exon hypothesis, by assigning to introns crucial roles in eukaryotic evolutionary innovation.
The scenario of the origin and evolution of introns that is best compatible with the results of comparative genomics and theoretical considerations goes as follows: self-splicing introns since the earliest stages of life's evolution – numerous spliceosomal introns invading genes of the emerging eukaryote during eukaryogenesis – subsequent lineage-specific loss and gain of introns. The intron invasion, probably, spawned by the mitochondrial endosymbiont, might have critically contributed to the emergence of the principal features of the eukaryotic cell. This scenario combines aspects of the introns-early and introns-late views.
this article was reviewed by W. Ford Doolittle, James Darnell (nominated by W. Ford Doolittle), William Martin, and Anthony Poole.
PMCID: PMC1570339  PMID: 16907971
15.  Non-random retention of protein-coding overlapping genes in Metazoa 
BMC Genomics  2008;9:174.
Although the overlap of transcriptional units occurs frequently in eukaryotic genomes, its evolutionary and biological significance remains largely unclear. Here we report a comparative analysis of overlaps between genes coding for well-annotated proteins in five metazoan genomes (human, mouse, zebrafish, fruit fly and worm).
For all analyzed species the observed number of overlapping genes is always lower than expected assuming functional neutrality, suggesting that gene overlap is negatively selected. The comparison to the random distribution also shows that retained overlaps do not exhibit random features: antiparallel overlaps are significantly enriched, while overlaps lying on the same strand and those involving coding sequences are highly underrepresented. We confirm that overlap is mostly species-specific and provide evidence that it frequently originates through the acquisition of terminal, non-coding exons. Finally, we show that overlapping genes tend to be significantly co-expressed in a breast cancer cDNA library obtained by 454 deep sequencing, and that different overlap types display different patterns of reciprocal expression.
Our data suggest that overlap between protein-coding genes is selected against in Metazoa. However, when retained it may be used as a species-specific mechanism for the reciprocal regulation of neighboring genes. The tendency of overlaps to involve non-coding regions of the genes leads to the speculation that the advantages achieved by an overlapping arrangement may be optimized by evolving regulatory non-coding transcripts.
PMCID: PMC2330155  PMID: 18416813
16.  Patterns of intron gain and conservation in eukaryotic genes 
The presence of introns in protein-coding genes is a universal feature of eukaryotic genome organization, and the genes of multicellular eukaryotes, typically, contain multiple introns, a substantial fraction of which share position in distant taxa, such as plants and animals. Depending on the methods and data sets used, researchers have reached opposite conclusions on the causes of the high fraction of shared introns in orthologous genes from distant eukaryotes. Some studies conclude that shared intron positions reflect, almost entirely, a remarkable evolutionary conservation, whereas others attribute it to parallel gain of introns. To resolve these contradictions, it is crucial to analyze the evolution of introns by using a model that minimally relies on arbitrary assumptions.
We developed a probabilistic model of evolution that allows for variability of intron gain and loss rates over branches of the phylogenetic tree, individual genes, and individual sites. Applying this model to an extended set of conserved eukaryotic genes, we find that parallel gain, on average, accounts for only ~8% of the shared intron positions. However, the distribution of parallel gains over the phylogenetic tree of eukaryotes is highly non-uniform. There are, practically, no parallel gains in closely related lineages, whereas for distant lineages, such as animals and plants, parallel gains appear to contribute up to 20% of the shared intron positions. In accord with these findings, we estimated that ancestral introns have a high probability to be retained in extant genomes, and conversely, that a substantial fraction of extant introns have retained their positions since the early stages of eukaryotic evolution. In addition, the density of sites that are available for intron insertion is estimated to be, approximately, one in seven basepairs.
We obtained robust estimates of the contribution of parallel gain to the observed sharing of intron positions between eukaryotic species separated by different evolutionary distances. The results indicate that, although the contribution of parallel gains varies across the phylogenetic tree, the high level of intron position sharing is due, primarily, to evolutionary conservation. Accordingly, numerous introns appear to persist in the same position over hundreds of millions of years of evolution. This is compatible with recent observations of a negative correlation between the rate of intron gain and coding sequence evolution rate of a gene, suggesting that at least some of the introns are functionally relevant.
PMCID: PMC2151770  PMID: 17935625
17.  First insights into the nature and evolution of antisense transcription in nematodes 
BMC Evolutionary Biology  2016;16(1):165.
The development of multicellular organisms is coordinated by various gene regulatory mechanisms that ensure correct spatio-temporal patterns of gene expression. Recently, the role of antisense transcription in gene regulation has moved into focus of research. To characterize genome-wide patterns of antisense transcription and to study their evolutionary conservation, we sequenced a strand-specific RNA-seq library of the nematode Pristionchus pacificus.
We identified 1112 antisense configurations of which the largest group represents 465 antisense transcripts (ASTs) that are fully embedded in introns of their host genes. We find that most ASTs show homology to protein-coding genes and are overrepresented in proteomic data. Together with the finding, that expression levels of ASTs and host genes are uncorrelated, this indicates that most ASTs in P. pacificus do not represent non-coding RNAs and do not exhibit regulatory functions on their host genes. We studied the evolution of antisense gene pairs across 20 nematode genomes, showing that the majority of pairs is lineage-specific and even the highly conserved vps-4, ddx-27, and sel-2 loci show abundant structural changes including duplications, deletions, intron gains and loss of antisense transcription. In contrast, host genes in general, are remarkably conserved and encode exceptionally long introns leading to unusually large blocks of conserved synteny.
Our study has shown that in P. pacificus antisense transcription as such does not define non-coding RNAs but is rather a feature of highly conserved genes with long introns. We hypothesize that the presence of regulatory elements imposes evolutionary constraint on the intron length, but simultaneously, their large size makes them a likely target for translocation of genomic elements including protein-coding genes that eventually end up as ASTs.
PMCID: PMC4994411  PMID: 27549405
Conserved synteny; Non-coding RNA; Orthology; Long introns; Strand-specific; Regulatory element
18.  Evolution Acts on Enhancer Organization to Fine-Tune Gradient Threshold Readouts 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(11):e263.
The elucidation of principles governing evolution of gene regulatory sequence is critical to the study of metazoan diversification. We are therefore exploring the structure and organizational constraints of regulatory sequences by studying functionally equivalent cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) that have been evolving in parallel across several loci. Such an independent dataset allows a multi-locus study that is not hampered by nonfunctional or constrained homology. The neurogenic ectoderm enhancers (NEEs) of Drosophila melanogaster are one such class of coordinately regulated CRMs. The NEEs share a common organization of binding sites and as a set would be useful to study the relationship between CRM organization and CRM activity across evolving lineages. We used the D. melanogaster transgenic system to screen for functional adaptations in the NEEs from divergent drosophilid species. We show that the individual NEE modules across a genome in any one lineage have independently evolved adaptations to compensate for lineage-specific developmental and/or genomic changes. Specifically, we show that both the site composition and the site organization of NEEs have been finely tuned by distinct, lineage-specific selection pressures in each of the three divergent species that we have examined: D. melanogaster, D. pseudoobscura, and D. virilis. Furthermore, by precisely altering the organization of NEEs with different morphogen gradient threshold readouts, we show that CRM organizational evolution is sufficient for explaining changes in enhancer activity. Thus, evolution can act on CRM organization to fine-tune morphogen gradient threshold readouts over a wide dynamic range. Our study demonstrates that equivalence classes of CRMs are powerful tools for detecting lineage-specific adaptations by gene regulatory sequences.
Author Summary
The regulatory control of genes allows an organism to generate a diversity of cell types throughout its body. Gene regulation involves specialized DNA sequences called transcriptional enhancers that increase the expression of genes in specific places and times. Enhancers contain clusters of specific DNA sequences that are uniquely recognized by DNA binding proteins, whose activities are also regulated in space and time. The critical role that DNA enhancers play in generating the diversity of cell types within a single organism suggests that changes in these DNA sequences may also underlie the diversity of organismal forms produced by evolution. However, few examples linking specific changes in enhancer sequences to functional adaptations have been documented. We studied a group of neuro-embryonic enhancers that turn on a certain group of genes in different fruit fly species that have been diverging from each other for ∼50 million years. Each species has experienced unique changes in its protein-coding sequences, gene regulatory sequences, egg morphology, and developmental timing. We found that the organizational spacing between the protein binding sites in these enhancers has evolved in a manner that is consistent with functional adaptations compensating for the dynamic and idiosyncratic evolutionary history of each species.
Characterizing neuroectodermal enhancers located throughout the genomes of threeDrosophila species reveals that each enhancer evolved functional adaptations that compensate for the evolutionary changes specific to each lineage.
PMCID: PMC2577699  PMID: 18986212
19.  Extensive intron gain in the ancestor of placental mammals 
Biology Direct  2011;6:59.
Genome-wide studies of intron dynamics in mammalian orthologous genes have found convincing evidence for loss of introns but very little for intron turnover. Similarly, large-scale analysis of intron dynamics in a few vertebrate genomes has identified only intron losses and no gains, indicating that intron gain is an extremely rare event in vertebrate evolution. These studies suggest that the intron-rich genomes of vertebrates do not allow intron gain. The aim of this study was to search for evidence of de novo intron gain in domesticated genes from an analysis of their exon/intron structures.
A phylogenomic approach has been used to analyse all domesticated genes in mammals and chordates that originated from the coding parts of transposable elements. Gain of introns in domesticated genes has been reconstructed on well established mammalian, vertebrate and chordate phylogenies, and examined as to where and when the gain events occurred. The locations, sizes and amounts of de novo introns gained in the domesticated genes during the evolution of mammals and chordates has been analyzed. A significant amount of intron gain was found only in domesticated genes of placental mammals, where more than 70 cases were identified. De novo gained introns show clear positional bias, since they are distributed mainly in 5' UTR and coding regions, while 3' UTR introns are very rare. In the coding regions of some domesticated genes up to 8 de novo gained introns have been found. Intron densities in Eutheria-specific domesticated genes and in older domesticated genes that originated early in vertebrates are lower than those for normal mammalian and vertebrate genes. Surprisingly, the majority of intron gains have occurred in the ancestor of placentals.
This study provides the first evidence for numerous intron gains in the ancestor of placental mammals and demonstrates that adequate taxon sampling is crucial for reconstructing intron evolution. The findings of this comprehensive study slightly challenge the current view on the evolutionary stasis in intron dynamics during the last 100 - 200 My. Domesticated genes could constitute an excellent system on which to analyse the mechanisms of intron gain in placental mammals.
Reviewers: this article was reviewed by Dan Graur, Eugene V. Koonin and Jürgen Brosius.
PMCID: PMC3257199  PMID: 22112745
20.  Dynamic and Widespread lncRNA Expression in a Sponge and the Origin of Animal Complexity 
Molecular Biology and Evolution  2015;32(9):2367-2382.
Long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) are important developmental regulators in bilaterian animals. A correlation has been claimed between the lncRNA repertoire expansion and morphological complexity in vertebrate evolution. However, this claim has not been tested by examining morphologically simple animals. Here, we undertake a systematic investigation of lncRNAs in the demosponge Amphimedon queenslandica, a morphologically simple, early-branching metazoan. We combine RNA-Seq data across multiple developmental stages of Amphimedon with a filtering pipeline to conservatively predict 2,935 lncRNAs. These include intronic overlapping lncRNAs, exonic antisense overlapping lncRNAs, long intergenic nonprotein coding RNAs, and precursors for small RNAs. Sponge lncRNAs are remarkably similar to their bilaterian counterparts in being relatively short with few exons and having low primary sequence conservation relative to protein-coding genes. As in bilaterians, a majority of sponge lncRNAs exhibit typical hallmarks of regulatory molecules, including high temporal specificity and dynamic developmental expression. Specific lncRNA expression profiles correlate tightly with conserved protein-coding genes likely involved in a range of developmental and physiological processes, such as the Wnt signaling pathway. Although the majority of Amphimedon lncRNAs appears to be taxonomically restricted with no identifiable orthologs, we find a few cases of conservation between demosponges in lncRNAs that are antisense to coding sequences. Based on the high similarity in the structure, organization, and dynamic expression of sponge lncRNAs to their bilaterian counterparts, we propose that these noncoding RNAs are an ancient feature of the metazoan genome. These results are consistent with lncRNAs regulating the development of animals, regardless of their level of morphological complexity.
PMCID: PMC4540969  PMID: 25976353
long noncoding RNAs; evolution; gene expression; complexity; basal metazoans
21.  The complexity of Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus genome characterised through detailed analysis of two BAC clones 
BMC Research Notes  2011;4:254.
Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus (Rmi) a major cattle ectoparasite and tick borne disease vector, impacts on animal welfare and industry productivity. In arthropod research there is an absence of a complete Chelicerate genome, which includes ticks, mites, spiders, scorpions and crustaceans. Model arthropod genomes such as Drosophila and Anopheles are too taxonomically distant for a reference in tick genomic sequence analysis. This study focuses on the de-novo assembly of two R. microplus BAC sequences from the understudied R microplus genome. Based on available R. microplus sequenced resources and comparative analysis, tick genomic structure and functional predictions identify complex gene structures and genomic targets expressed during tick-cattle interaction.
In our BAC analyses we have assembled, using the correct positioning of BAC end sequences and transcript sequences, two challenging genomic regions. Cot DNA fractions compared to the BAC sequences confirmed a highly repetitive BAC sequence BM-012-E08 and a low repetitive BAC sequence BM-005-G14 which was gene rich and contained short interspersed elements (SINEs). Based directly on the BAC and Cot data comparisons, the genome wide frequency of the SINE Ruka element was estimated. Using a conservative approach to the assembly of the highly repetitive BM-012-E08, the sequence was de-convoluted into three repeat units, each unit containing an 18S, 5.8S and 28S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) encoding gene sequence (rDNA), related internal transcribed spacer and complex intergenic region.
In the low repetitive BM-005-G14, a novel gene complex was found between to 2 genes on the same strand. Nested in the second intron of a large 9 Kb papilin gene was a helicase gene. This helicase overlapped in two exonic regions with the papilin. Both these genes were shown expressed in different tick life stage important in ectoparasite interaction with the host. Tick specific sequence differences were also determined for the papilin gene and the protein binding sites of the 18S subunit in a comparison to Bos taurus.
In the absence of a sequenced reference genome we have assembled two complex BAC sequences, characterised novel gene structure that was confirmed by gene expression and sequencing analyses. This is the first report to provide evidence for 2 eukaryotic genes with exon regions that overlap on the same strand, the first to describe Rhipicephalinae papilin, and the first to report the complete ribosomal DNA repeated unit sequence structure for ticks. The Cot data estimation of genome wide sequence frequency means this research will underpin future efforts for genome sequencing and assembly of the R. microplus genome.
PMCID: PMC3160391  PMID: 21777481
22.  Intronic Alternative Splicing Regulators Identified by Comparative Genomics in Nematodes 
PLoS Computational Biology  2006;2(7):e86.
Many alternative splicing events are regulated by pentameric and hexameric intronic sequences that serve as binding sites for splicing regulatory factors. We hypothesized that intronic elements that regulate alternative splicing are under selective pressure for evolutionary conservation. Using a Wobble Aware Bulk Aligner genomic alignment of Caenorhabditis elegans and Caenorhabditis briggsae, we identified 147 alternatively spliced cassette exons that exhibit short regions of high nucleotide conservation in the introns flanking the alternative exon. In vivo experiments on the alternatively spliced let-2 gene confirm that these conserved regions can be important for alternative splicing regulation. Conserved intronic element sequences were collected into a dataset and the occurrence of each pentamer and hexamer motif was counted. We compared the frequency of pentamers and hexamers in the conserved intronic elements to a dataset of all C. elegans intron sequences in order to identify short intronic motifs that are more likely to be associated with alternative splicing. High-scoring motifs were examined for upstream or downstream preferences in introns surrounding alternative exons. Many of the high- scoring nematode pentamer and hexamer motifs correspond to known mammalian splicing regulatory sequences, such as (T)GCATG, indicating that the mechanism of alternative splicing regulation is well conserved in metazoans. A comparison of the analysis of the conserved intronic elements, and analysis of the entire introns flanking these same exons, reveals that focusing on intronic conservation can increase the sensitivity of detecting putative splicing regulatory motifs. This approach also identified novel sequences whose role in splicing is under investigation and has allowed us to take a step forward in defining a catalog of splicing regulatory elements for an organism. In vivo experiments confirm that one novel high-scoring sequence from our analysis, (T)CTATC, is important for alternative splicing regulation of the unc-52 gene.
Alternative splicing of precursor messenger RNA is a process by which multiple protein isoforms are generated from a single gene. As many as 60% of human genes are processed in this manner, creating tissue-specific isoforms of proteins that may be a key factor in regulating the complexity of our physiology. One of the major challenges to understanding this process is to identify the sequences on the precursor messenger RNA responsible for splicing regulation. Some of these regulatory sequences occur in regions that are spliced out (called introns). This study tested the hypothesis that there should be evolutionary pressure to maintain these intronic regulatory sequences, even though intron sequence is non-coding and rapidly diverges between species. The authors employed a genomic alignment of two roundworms, Caenorhabditis elegans and Caenorhabditis briggsae, to investigate the regulation of alternative splicing. By examining evolutionarily conserved stretches of introns flanking alternatively spliced exons, the authors identified and functionally confirmed splicing regulatory sequences. Many of the top scoring sequences match known mammalian regulators, suggesting the alternative splicing regulatory mechanism is conserved across all metazoans. Other sequences were not previously identified in mammals and may represent new alternative splicing regulatory elements in higher organisms or ones that may be specific to worms.
PMCID: PMC1500816  PMID: 16839192
23.  Shared Gene Structures and Clusters of Mutually Exclusive Spliced Exons within the Metazoan Muscle Myosin Heavy Chain Genes 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e88111.
Multicellular animals possess two to three different types of muscle tissues. Striated muscles have considerable ultrastructural similarity and contain a core set of proteins including the muscle myosin heavy chain (Mhc) protein. The ATPase activity of this myosin motor protein largely dictates muscle performance at the molecular level. Two different solutions to adjusting myosin properties to different muscle subtypes have been identified so far: Vertebrates and nematodes contain many independent differentially expressed Mhc genes while arthropods have single Mhc genes with clusters of mutually exclusive spliced exons (MXEs). The availability of hundreds of metazoan genomes now allowed us to study whether the ancient bilateria already contained MXEs, how MXE complexity subsequently evolved, and whether additional scenarios to control contractile properties in different muscles could be proposed, By reconstructing the Mhc genes from 116 metazoans we showed that all intron positions within the motor domain coding regions are conserved in all bilateria analysed. The last common ancestor of the bilateria already contained a cluster of MXEs coding for part of the loop-2 actin-binding sequence. Subsequently the protostomes and later the arthropods gained many further clusters while MXEs got completely lost independently in several branches (vertebrates and nematodes) and species (for example the annelid Helobdella robusta and the salmon louse Lepeophtheirus salmonis). Several bilateria have been found to encode multiple Mhc genes that might all or in part contain clusters of MXEs. Notable examples are a cluster of six tandemly arrayed Mhc genes, of which two contain MXEs, in the owl limpet Lottia gigantea and four Mhc genes with three encoding MXEs in the predatory mite Metaseiulus occidentalis. Our analysis showed that similar solutions to provide different myosin isoforms (multiple genes or clusters of MXEs or both) have independently been developed several times within bilaterian evolution.
PMCID: PMC3912159  PMID: 24498429
24.  Combined Evidence Annotation of Transposable Elements in Genome Sequences 
PLoS Computational Biology  2005;1(2):e22.
Transposable elements (TEs) are mobile, repetitive sequences that make up significant fractions of metazoan genomes. Despite their near ubiquity and importance in genome and chromosome biology, most efforts to annotate TEs in genome sequences rely on the results of a single computational program, RepeatMasker. In contrast, recent advances in gene annotation indicate that high-quality gene models can be produced from combining multiple independent sources of computational evidence. To elevate the quality of TE annotations to a level comparable to that of gene models, we have developed a combined evidence-model TE annotation pipeline, analogous to systems used for gene annotation, by integrating results from multiple homology-based and de novo TE identification methods. As proof of principle, we have annotated “TE models” in Drosophila melanogaster Release 4 genomic sequences using the combined computational evidence derived from RepeatMasker, BLASTER, TBLASTX, all-by-all BLASTN, RECON, TE-HMM and the previous Release 3.1 annotation. Our system is designed for use with the Apollo genome annotation tool, allowing automatic results to be curated manually to produce reliable annotations. The euchromatic TE fraction of D. melanogaster is now estimated at 5.3% (cf. 3.86% in Release 3.1), and we found a substantially higher number of TEs (n = 6,013) than previously identified (n = 1,572). Most of the new TEs derive from small fragments of a few hundred nucleotides long and highly abundant families not previously annotated (e.g., INE-1). We also estimated that 518 TE copies (8.6%) are inserted into at least one other TE, forming a nest of elements. The pipeline allows rapid and thorough annotation of even the most complex TE models, including highly deleted and/or nested elements such as those often found in heterochromatic sequences. Our pipeline can be easily adapted to other genome sequences, such as those of the D. melanogaster heterochromatin or other species in the genus Drosophila.
A first step in adding value to the large-scale DNA sequences generated by genome projects is the process of annotation—marking biological features on the raw string of adenines, cytosines, guanines, and thymines. The predominant goal in genome annotation thus far has been to identify gene sequences that encode proteins; however, many functional sequences exist in non-protein-coding regions and their annotation remains incomplete. Mobile, repetitive DNA segments known as transposable elements (TEs) are one class of functional sequence in non-protein-coding regions, which can make up large fractions of genome sequences (e.g., about 45% in the human) and can play important roles in gene and chromosome structure and regulation. As a consequence, there has been increasing interest in the computational identification of TEs in genome sequences. Borrowing current ideas from the field of gene annotation, the authors have developed a pipeline to predict TEs in genome sequences that combines multiple sources of evidence from different computational methods. The authors' combined-evidence pipeline represents an important step towards raising the standards of TE annotation to the same quality as that of genes, and should help catalyze their understanding of the biological role of these fascinating sequences.
PMCID: PMC1185648  PMID: 16110336
25.  Nme Gene Family Evolutionary History Reveals Pre-Metazoan Origins and High Conservation between Humans and the Sea Anemone, Nematostella vectensis 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e15506.
The Nme gene family is involved in multiple physiological and pathological processes such as cellular differentiation, development, metastatic dissemination, and cilia functions. Despite the known importance of Nme genes and their use as clinical markers of tumor aggressiveness, the associated cellular mechanisms remain poorly understood. Over the last 20 years, several non-vertebrate model species have been used to investigate Nme functions. However, the evolutionary history of the family remains poorly understood outside the vertebrate lineage. The aim of the study was thus to elucidate the evolutionary history of the Nme gene family in Metazoans.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Using a total of 21 eukaryote species including 14 metazoans, the evolutionary history of Nme genes was reconstructed in the metazoan lineage. We demonstrated that the complexity of the Nme gene family, initially thought to be restricted to chordates, was also shared by the metazoan ancestor. We also provide evidence suggesting that the complexity of the family is mainly a eukaryotic innovation, with the exception of Nme8 that is likely to be a choanoflagellate/metazoan innovation. Highly conserved gene structure, genomic linkage, and protein domains were identified among metazoans, some features being also conserved in eukaryotes. When considering the entire Nme family, the starlet sea anemone is the studied metazoan species exhibiting the most conserved gene and protein sequence features with humans. In addition, we were able to show that most of the proteins known to interact with human NME proteins were also found in starlet sea anemone.
Together, our observations further support the association of Nme genes with key cellular functions that have been conserved throughout metazoan evolution. Future investigations of evolutionarily conserved Nme gene functions using the starlet sea anemone could shed new light on a wide variety of key developmental and cellular processes.
PMCID: PMC2978717  PMID: 21085602

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