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Mol Biol Evol. 2005 Jan;22(1):178-88. Epub 2004 Sep 15.

Sexual and temporal dynamics of molecular evolution in C. elegans development.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA.


Dissection of the phenotypic and molecular details of development and differentiation is a centuries-old topic in evolutionary biology. However, an adequate understanding is missing for the molecular evolution of genes that are expressed differentially throughout development-across time, tissues, and the sexes. In this study, we investigate the dynamics of gene evolution across Caenorhabditis elegans ontogeny and among genes expressed differentially between each sex and gamete type. Using gene classes identified by genome-wide gene expression developmental time series and comparative sequence analysis with the congener C. briggsae, we demonstrate that genes expressed predominantly after reproductive maturity evolve more rapidly than genes expressed earlier in development and that genes expressed transiently during embryogenesis evolve faster than other embryonic transcripts. These results are indicative of relaxed selection on genes expressed after maturity, in accord with the mutation-accumulation model of aging. Furthermore, genes involved in spermatogenesis reveal more rapid evolution than other phenotypic classes of genes. Average rates of evolution among male soma-related genes indicates that selection acts to maintain males in these androdioecious species, despite their rarity, and the rapid evolution of sperm genes suggests that sexual selection acts on sperm development and function.

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