Reconstructing the evolutionary history of a functionally diverse gene family reveals complexity at the genetic origins of novelty
Gene duplication is associated with the evolution of many novel biological functions at the molecular level. The dominant view, often referred to as “neofunctionalization”, states that duplications precede many novel gene functions by creating functionally redundant copies which are less constrained than singletons. However, numerous alternative models have been formulated, including some in which novel functions emerge prior to duplication. Unfortunately, few studies have reconstructed the evolutionary history of a functionally diverse gene family sufficiently well to differentiate between these models. Here we examined the evolution of the g2 family of phospholipase A2 (EC 126.96.36.199) in the genomes of 93 species from all major lineages of Vertebrata. This family is evolutionarily important and has been co-opted for a diverse range of functions, including innate immunity and venom. The genomic region in which this family is located is remarkably syntenic. This allowed us to reconstruct all duplication events over hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary history using manual annotation of gene clusters, which enabled the discovery of a large number of previously un-annotated genes. Intriguingly, we found that the same ancestral gene in the phospholipase gene cluster independently acquired novel molecular functions in birds, mammals and snake, and all subsequent expansion of the cluster originates from this locus. This suggests that the locus has a deep ancestral propensity for multiplication, likely conferred by a structural arrangement of genomic material (i.e. the “genomic context” of the locus) that dates back at least the amniote MRCA. These results highlight the underlying complexity of gene family evolution, as well as the historical- and context-dependence of gene family evolution. ![Figure]</img> ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest. : pending:yes
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