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Curr Biol. 2006 Mar 21;16(6):580-5.

Natural selection drives extremely rapid evolution in antiviral RNAi genes.

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Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh, Kings Buildings, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, United Kingdom.


RNA interference (RNAi) is perhaps best known as a laboratory tool. However, RNAi-related pathways represent an antiviral component of innate immunity in both plants and animals. Since viruses can protect themselves by suppressing RNAi, interaction between RNA viruses and host RNAi may represent an ancient coevolutionary "arms race." This could lead to strong directional selection on RNAi genes, but to date their evolution has not been studied. By comparing DNA sequences from different species of Drosophila, we show that the rate of amino acid evolution is substantially elevated in genes related to antiviral RNAi function (Dcr2, R2D2, and Ago2). They are among the fastest evolving 3% of all Drosophila genes; they evolve significantly faster than other components of innate immunity and faster than paralogous genes that mediate "housekeeping" functions. Based on DNA polymorphism data from three species of Drosophila, McDonald-Kreitman tests showed that this rapid evolution is due to strong positive selection. Furthermore, Dcr2 and Ago2 display reduced genetic diversity, indicative of a recent selective sweep in both genes. Together, these data show rapid adaptive evolution of the antiviral RNAi pathway in Drosophila. This is a signature of host-pathogen arms races and implies that the ancient battle between RNA viruses and host antiviral RNAi genes is active and significant in shaping RNAi function.

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