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Ecological correlates of gene family size in a pine-feeding sawfly genome and across Hymenoptera

By Kim Vertacnik, Danielle Herrig, R Keating Godfrey, Tom Hill, Scott Geib, Rob Unckless, David Nelson, Catherine R. Linnen

Posted 16 Mar 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.03.14.435331

A central goal in evolutionary biology is to determine the predictability of adaptive genetic changes. Despite many documented cases of convergent evolution at individual loci, little is known about the repeatability of gene family expansions and contractions. To address this void, we examined gene family evolution in the redheaded pine sawfly Neodiprion lecontei, a non-eusocial hymenopteran and exemplar of a pine-specialized lineage evolved from angiosperm-feeding ancestors. After assembling and annotating a draft genome, we manually annotated multiple gene families with chemosensory, detoxification, or immunity functions and characterized their genomic distributions and evolutionary history. Our results suggest that expansions of bitter gustatory receptor (GR), clan 3 cytochrome P450 (CYP3), and antimicrobial peptide (AMP) subfamilies may have contributed to pine adaptation. By contrast, there was no evidence of recent gene family contraction via pseudogenization. Next, we compared the number of genes in these same families across insect taxa that vary in diet, dietary specialization, and social behavior. In Hymenoptera, herbivory was associated with small GR and olfactory receptor (OR) families, eusociality was associated with large OR and small AMP families, and--unlike investigations in more closely related taxa--ecological specialization was not related to gene family size. Overall, our results suggest that gene families that mediate ecological interactions may expand and contract predictably in response to particular selection pressures, however, the ecological drivers and temporal pace of gene gain and loss likely varies considerably across gene families.

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