To determine whether the distinctive features of Caenorhabditis elegans chromosomal organization are shared with the C. briggsae genome, we constructed a single nucleotide polymorphism–based genetic map to order and orient the whole genome shotgun assembly along the six C. briggsae chromosomes. Although these species are of the same genus, their most recent common ancestor existed 80–110 million years ago, and thus they are more evolutionarily distant than, for example, human and mouse. We found that, like C. elegans chromosomes, C. briggsae chromosomes exhibit high levels of recombination on the arms along with higher repeat density, a higher fraction of intronic sequence, and a lower fraction of exonic sequence compared with chromosome centers. Despite extensive intrachromosomal rearrangements, 1:1 orthologs tend to remain in the same region of the chromosome, and colinear blocks of orthologs tend to be longer in chromosome centers compared with arms. More strikingly, the two species show an almost complete conservation of synteny, with 1:1 orthologs present on a single chromosome in one species also found on a single chromosome in the other. The conservation of both chromosomal organization and synteny between these two distantly related species suggests roles for chromosome organization in the fitness of an organism that are only poorly understood presently.
The importance of chromosomal organization in the fitness of a species is only poorly understood. The publication of the C. elegans genome sequence in 1998 revealed features of higher level organization that suggested its chromosomes were organized into distinct domains. Chromosome arms were accumulating changes more rapidly than the centers of chromosomes. In this paper, we have compared the organization of the nematode C. briggsae genome with that of C. elegans. By building a genetic map based on DNA variations between two strains of C. briggsae, and by using that map to organize the draft genome sequence of C. briggsae published in 2003, we found the following: (1) Intrachromosomal rearrangements are frequent within and even between arms but are less common within central regions and between arms and centers. (2) Genes have remained overwhelmingly on the same chromosomes. (3) The distinctive features that distinguish C. elegans arms from centers also are seen in C. briggsae chromosomes. The conservation of these features between these two species, despite the approximately 100 million years since their most recent common ancestor, provides clear evidence of the selective advantages of the domain architecture of chromosomes. The continuing association of genes on the same chromosomes suggests that this may also be advantageous.
The conservation of both chromosomal organization and synteny between two distantly related species suggests roles for chromosome organization in the fitness of an organism.