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PLoS Genet. 2015 Jun 26;11(6):e1005323. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1005323. eCollection 2015 Jun.

Reproductive Mode and the Evolution of Genome Size and Structure in Caenorhabditis Nematodes.

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Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, United States of America.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Centre for the Analysis of Genome Evolution and Function, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


The self-fertile nematode worms Caenorhabditis elegans, C. briggsae, and C. tropicalis evolved independently from outcrossing male-female ancestors and have genomes 20-40% smaller than closely related outcrossing relatives. This pattern of smaller genomes for selfing species and larger genomes for closely related outcrossing species is also seen in plants. We use comparative genomics, including the first high quality genome assembly for an outcrossing member of the genus (C. remanei) to test several hypotheses for the evolution of genome reduction under a change in mating system. Unlike plants, it does not appear that reductions in the number of repetitive elements, such as transposable elements, are an important contributor to the change in genome size. Instead, all functional genomic categories are lost in approximately equal proportions. Theory predicts that self-fertilization should equalize the effective population size, as well as the resulting effects of genetic drift, between the X chromosome and autosomes. Contrary to this, we find that the self-fertile C. briggsae and C. elegans have larger intergenic spaces and larger protein-coding genes on the X chromosome when compared to autosomes, while C. remanei actually has smaller introns on the X chromosome than either self-reproducing species. Rather than being driven by mutational biases and/or genetic drift caused by a reduction in effective population size under self reproduction, changes in genome size in this group of nematodes appear to be caused by genome-wide patterns of gene loss, most likely generated by genomic adaptation to self reproduction per se.

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