Evaluation of the Role of Functional Constraints on the Integrity of an Ultraconserved Region in the Genus Drosophila

Duke University, United States of America
PLoS Genetics (Impact Factor: 7.53). 02/2012; 8(2):e1002475. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002475
Source: PubMed


Why gene order is conserved over long evolutionary timespans remains elusive. A common interpretation is that gene order conservation might reflect the existence of functional constraints that are important for organismal performance. Alteration of the integrity of genomic regions, and therefore of those constraints, would result in detrimental effects. This notion seems especially plausible in those genomes that can easily accommodate gene reshuffling via chromosomal inversions since genomic regions free of constraints are likely to have been disrupted in one or more lineages. Nevertheless, no empirical test has been performed to this notion. Here, we disrupt one of the largest conserved genomic regions of the Drosophila genome by chromosome engineering and examine the phenotypic consequences derived from such disruption. The targeted region exhibits multiple patterns of functional enrichment suggestive of the presence of constraints. The carriers of the disrupted collinear block show no defects in their viability, fertility, and parameters of general homeostasis, although their odorant perception is altered. This change in odorant perception does not correlate with modifications of the level of expression and sex bias of the genes within the genomic region disrupted. Our results indicate that even in highly rearranged genomes, like those of Diptera, unusually high levels of gene order conservation cannot be systematically attributed to functional constraints, which raises the possibility that other mechanisms can be in place and therefore the underpinnings of the maintenance of gene organization might be more diverse than previously thought.

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    • "However, the empirical disruption of a D. melanogaster group of genes with putative HCNE-dependent gene order stability did not result in the expected detrimental effect [76]. The chromosome region in question did not lack the kind of genetic elements commonly associated with chromosome rearrangements [76]. Thus, for this particular region, neither the presence of functional interplays, nor the absence of genomic elements that might participate in chromosome rearrangements, completely explain its remarkable gene order stability in the Drosophila genus. "
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