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Gene. 2012 Aug 1;504(1):1-5. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2012.05.003. Epub 2012 May 9.

Evolutionary growth process of highly conserved sequences in vertebrate genomes.

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Biomedicinal Information Research Center, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, 2-4-7 Aomi, Tokyo 135-0064, Japan.


Genome sequence comparison between evolutionarily distant species revealed ultraconserved elements (UCEs) among mammals under strong purifying selection. Most of them were also conserved among vertebrates. Because they tend to be located in the flanking regions of developmental genes, they would have fundamental roles in creating vertebrate body plans. However, the evolutionary origin and selection mechanism of these UCEs remain unclear. Here we report that UCEs arose in primitive vertebrates, and gradually grew in vertebrate evolution. We searched for UCEs in two teleost fishes, Tetraodon nigroviridis and Oryzias latipes, and found 554 UCEs with 100% identity over 100 bps. Comparison of teleost and mammalian UCEs revealed 43 pairs of common, jawed-vertebrate UCEs (jUCE) with high sequence identities, ranging from 83.1% to 99.2%. Ten of them retain lower similarities to the Petromyzon marinus genome, and the substitution rates of four non-exonic jUCEs were reduced after the teleost-mammal divergence, suggesting that robust conservation had been acquired in the jawed vertebrate lineage. Our results indicate that prototypical UCEs originated before the divergence of jawed and jawless vertebrates and have been frozen as perfect conserved sequences in the jawed vertebrate lineage. In addition, our comparative sequence analyses of UCEs and neighboring regions resulted in a discovery of lineage-specific conserved sequences. They were added progressively to prototypical UCEs, suggesting step-wise acquisition of novel regulatory roles. Our results indicate that conserved non-coding elements (CNEs) consist of blocks with distinct evolutionary history, each having been frozen since different evolutionary era along the vertebrate lineage.

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