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Genome Biol Evol. 2014 Jul 8;6(7):1724-38. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evu122.

Evolutionary genomics of fast evolving tunicates.

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Sección Biomatemática, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de la República, Montevideo, UruguayUnidad de Biología Molecular, Institut Pasteur Montevideo, Montevideo, Uruguay.
Sección Biomatemática, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de la República, Montevideo, Uruguay


Tunicates have been extensively studied because of their crucial phylogenetic location (the closest living relatives of vertebrates) and particular developmental plan. Recent genome efforts have disclosed that tunicates are also remarkable in their genome organization and molecular evolutionary patterns. Here, we review these latter aspects, comparing the similarities and specificities of two model species of the group: Oikopleura dioica and Ciona intestinalis. These species exhibit great genome plasticity and Oikopleura in particular has undergone a process of extreme genome reduction and compaction that can be explained in part by gene loss, but is mostly due to other mechanisms such as shortening of intergenic distances and introns, and scarcity of mobile elements. In Ciona, genome reorganization was less severe being more similar to the other chordates in several aspects. Rates and patterns of molecular evolution are also peculiar in tunicates, being Ciona about 50% faster than vertebrates and Oikopleura three times faster. In fact, the latter species is considered as the fastest evolving metazoan recorded so far. Two processes of increase in evolutionary rates have taken place in tunicates. One of them is more extreme, and basically restricted to genes encoding regulatory proteins (transcription regulators, chromatin remodeling proteins, and metabolic regulators), and the other one is less pronounced but affects the whole genome. Very likely adaptive evolution has played a very significant role in the first, whereas the functional and/or evolutionary causes of the second are less clear and the evidence is not conclusive. The evidences supporting the incidence of increased mutation and less efficient negative selection are presented and discussed.


Ciona; Oikopleura dioica; genome plasticity; positive selection

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