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Mol Ecol. 2019 Jul 22. doi: 10.1111/mec.15180. [Epub ahead of print]

Convergent vomeronasal system reduction in mammals coincides with convergent losses of calcium signalling and odorant-degrading genes.

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Center for Systems Biology Dresden, Dresden, Germany.
Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden, Germany.
Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Dresden, Germany.
Museum für Naturkunde, Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science, Berlin, Germany.
Population Genetics, Senckenberg Natural History Collections Dresden, Dresden, Germany.
Leibniz Institution for Biodiversity and Earth System Research, Dresden, Germany.


The vomeronasal system (VNS) serves crucial functions for detecting olfactory clues often related to social and sexual behaviour. Intriguingly, two of the main components of the VNS, the vomeronasal organ (VNO) and the accessory olfactory bulb, are regressed in aquatic mammals, several bats and primates, likely due to adaptations to different ecological niches. To detect genomic changes that are associated with the convergent reduction of the VNS, we performed the first systematic screen for convergently inactivated protein-coding genes associated with convergent VNS reduction, considering 106 mammalian genomes. Extending previous studies, our results support that Trpc2, a cation channel that is important for calcium signalling in the VNO, is a predictive molecular marker for the presence of a VNS. Our screen also detected the convergent inactivation of the calcium-binding protein S100z, the aldehyde oxidase Aox2 that is involved in odorant degradation, and the uncharacterized Mslnl gene that is expressed in the VNO and olfactory epithelium. Furthermore, we found that Trpc2 and S100z or Aox2 are also inactivated in otters and Phocid seals for which no morphological data about the VNS are available yet. This predicts a VNS reduction in these semi-aquatic mammals. By examining the genomes of 115 species in total, our study provides a detailed picture of how the convergent reduction of the VNS coincides with gene inactivation in placental mammals. These inactivated genes provide experimental targets for studying the evolution and biological significance of the olfactory system under different environmental conditions.


accessory olfactory bulb; calcium signalling; convergent gene loss; odorant degradation; vomeronasal organ; vomeronasal system


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