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Mol Biol Evol. 2011 Nov;28(11):3127-37. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msr145. Epub 2011 Jun 1.

Accelerated and adaptive evolution of yeast sexual adhesins.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, NY, USA.


There is a recent emergence of interest in the genes involved in gametic recognition as drivers of reproductive isolation. The recent population genomic sequencing of two species of sexually primitive yeasts (Liti G, Carter DM, Moses AM, Warringer J, Parts L, James SA, Davey RP, Roberts IN, Burt A, Koufopanou V et al. [23 co-authors]. 2009. Population genomics of domestic and wild yeasts. Nature 458:337-341.) has provided data for systematic study of the roles these genes play in the early evolution of sex and speciation. Here, we discovered that among genes encoding cell surface proteins, the sexual adhesin genes have evolved significantly more rapidly than others, both within and between Saccharomyces cerevisiae and its closest relative S. paradoxus. This result was supported by analyses using the PAML pairwise model, a modified McDonald-Kreitman test, and the PAML branch model. Moreover, using a combination of a new statistic of neutrality, an information theory-based measure of evolutionary variability, and functional characterization of amino acid changes, we found that a higher proportion of amino acid changes are fixed in the sexual adhesins than in other proteins and a greater proportion of the fixed amino acid changes either between the two species or the two subgroups of S. paradoxus are functionally dissimilar or radically different. These results suggest that the accelerated evolution of sexual adhesin genes may facilitate speciation, or incipient speciation, and promote sexual selection in general.

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