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Mol Biol Evol. 2012 Jul;29(7):1747-56. doi: 10.1093/molbev/mss017. Epub 2012 Jan 20.

Evolution of a membrane protein regulon in Saccharomyces.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, USA.


Expression variation is widespread between species. The ability to distinguish regulatory change driven by natural selection from the consequences of neutral drift remains a major challenge in comparative genomics. In this work, we used observations of mRNA expression and promoter sequence to analyze signatures of selection on groups of functionally related genes in Saccharomycete yeasts. In a survey of gene regulons with expression divergence between Saccharomyces cerevisiae and S. paradoxus, we found that most were subject to variation in trans-regulatory factors that provided no evidence against a neutral model. However, we identified one regulon of membrane protein genes controlled by unlinked cis- and trans-acting determinants with coherent effects on gene expression, consistent with a history of directional, nonneutral evolution. For this membrane protein group, S. paradoxus alleles at regulatory loci were associated with elevated expression and altered stress responsiveness relative to other yeasts. In a phylogenetic comparison of promoter sequences of the membrane protein genes between species, the S. paradoxus lineage was distinguished by a short branch length, indicative of strong selective constraint. Likewise, sequence variants within the S. paradoxus population, but not across strains of other yeasts, were skewed toward low frequencies in promoters of genes in the membrane protein regulon, again reflecting strong purifying selection. Our results support a model in which a distinct expression program for the membrane protein genes in S. paradoxus has been preferentially maintained by negative selection as the result of an increased importance to organismal fitness. These findings illustrate the power of integrating expression- and sequence-based tests of natural selection in the study of evolutionary forces that underlie regulatory change.

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