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Genomic signature of shifts in selection in a sub-alpine ant and its physiological adaptations

By Francesco Cicconardi, Patrick Krapf, Ilda D’Annessa, Alexander Gamisch, Herbert C Wagner, Andrew D. Nguyen, Evan P Economo, Alexander S. Mikheyev, Benoit Guenard, Reingard Grabherr, Wolfgang Arthofer, Daniele di Marino, Florian M Steiner, Birgit C Schlick-Steiner

Posted 09 Jul 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/696948 (published DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msaa076)

Understanding how organisms adapt to extreme environments is fundamental and can provide insightful case studies for both evolutionary biology and climate-change biology. Here, we take advantage of the vast diversity of lifestyles in ants to identify genomic signatures of adaptation to extreme habitats such as high altitude. We hypothesised two parallel patterns would occur in a genome adapting to an extreme habitat: i ) strong positive selection on genes related to adaptation and, ii ) a relaxation of previous purifying selection. We tested this hypothesis by sequencing the high-elevation specialist Tetramorium alpestre and four other phylogenetic related species. In support of our hypothesis, we recorded a strong shift of selective forces in T. alpestre , in particular a stronger magnitude of diversifying and relaxed selection when compared to all other ants. We further disentangled candidate molecular adaptations in both gene expression and protein-coding sequence that were identified by our genome-wide analyses. In particular, we demonstrate that T. alpestre has i ) a derived level of expression for stv and other heat-shock proteins in chill shock tests, and ii ) enzymatic enhancement of Hex-T1, a rate-limiting regulatory enzyme that controls the entry of glucose into the glycolytic pathway. Together, our analyses highlight the adaptive molecular changes that support colonisation of high-altitude environments.

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