Evolution of a complex locus : exon gain, loss and divergence at the Gr39a locus in Drosophila
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Background. Gene families typically evolve by gene duplication followed by the adoption of new or altered gene functions. A different way to evolve new but related functions is alternative splicing of existing exons of a complex gene. The chemosensory gene families of animals are characterised by numerous loci of related function. Alternative splicing has only rarely been reported in chemosensory loci, for example in 5 out of around 120 loci in Drosophila melanogaster. The gustatory receptor gene Gr39a has four large exons that are alternatively spliced with three small conserved exons. Recently the genome sequences of eleven additional species of Drosophila have become available allowing us to examine variation in the structure of the Gr39a locus across a wide phylogenetic range of fly species. Methodology/Principal Findings. We describe a fifth exon and show that the locus has a complex evolutionary history with several duplications, pseudogenisations and losses of exons. PAML analyses suggested that the whole gene has a history of purifying selection, although this was less strong in exons which underwent duplication. Conclusions/Significance. Estimates of functional divergence between exons were similar in magnitude to functional divergence between duplicated genes, suggesting that exon divergence is broadly equivalent to gene duplication.
Gardiner , A , Barker , D , Butlin , R K , Jordan , W C & Ritchie , M G 2008 , ' Evolution of a complex locus : exon gain, loss and divergence at the Gr39a locus in Drosophila ' , PLoS One , vol. 3 , no. 1 , e1513 . https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0001513
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