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Genetica. 2008 Jul;133(3):307-19. Epub 2007 Oct 17.

A comparative genomic analysis of the small heat shock proteins in Caenorhabditis elegans and briggsae.

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Oregon Health Sciences University, MMI Core Facility, 3181 S.W. Sam Jackson Park Road, Portland, OR 97239-3098, USA.


The small heat shock proteins (sHSPs) are a ubiquitous family of molecular chaperones. We have identified 18 sHSPs in the Caenorhabditis elegans genome and 20 sHSPs in the Caenorhabditis briggsae genome. Analysis of phylogenetic relationships and evolutionary dynamics of the sHSPs in these two genomes reveals a very complex pattern of evolution. The sHSPs in C. elegans and C. briggsae do not display clear orthologous relationships with other invertebrate sHSPs. But many sHSPs in C. elegans have orthologs in C. briggsae. One group of sHSPs, the HSP16s, has a very unusual evolutionary history. Although there are a number of HSP16s in both the C. elegans and C. briggsae genomes, none of the HSP16s display orthologous relationships across these two species. The HSP16s have an unusual gene pair structure and a complex evolutionary history shaped by gene duplication, gene conversion, and purifying selection. We found no evidence of recent positive selection acting on any of the sHSPs in C. elegans or in C. briggsae. There is also no evidence of functional divergence within the pairs of orthologous C. elegans and C. briggsae sHSPs. However, the evolutionary patterns do suggest that functional divergence has occurred between the sHSPs in C. elegans and C. briggsae and the sHSPs in more distantly related invertebrates.

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