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J Mol Biol. 1984 Dec 25;180(4):803-23.

The eta-globin gene. Its long evolutionary history in the beta-globin gene family of mammals.


In phylogenetic reconstructions by the parsimony method, utilizing 62 sequenced globin genes and pseudogenes (including 34 of the beta-globin gene family from eutherian orders Primates, Lagomorpha, Artiodactyla and Rodentia), the branch of primate psi beta pseudogenes and the goat embryonically expressed epsilon II gene group monophyletically together as orthologues of a common ancestral gene (labelled eta) distinct from orthologues of epsilon, gamma, delta and beta. This primate psi eta-goat eta branch is cladistically closer to epsilon and gamma than to delta and beta branches. In each eutherian order gene conversions replaced portions of delta by beta sequences, whereas in descent of Primates epsilon, gamma and eta mostly retained their separate ancient identities predating the radiation of Eutheria in all their exons and non-coding regions. The loci of the ancestral beta-globin gene cluster in basal eutherians and proto-primates, as deduced from beta-clusters representing the four eutherian orders, were linked 5'-epsilon-gamma-eta-delta-beta-3' with epsilon, gamma and eta being embryonically expressed genes, and delta and beta ontogenetically later expressed genes. Through deletions gamma was lost in artiodactyl evolution, eta in lagomorph and rodent evolution, and all DNA between exon 2 3' boundaries of eta and delta in prosimian lemuriform evolution (lemur having the hybrid pseudogene psi eta delta). Simian primates retained intact the five loci of the ancestral cluster. Not only did eta, after it became a pseudogene in the basal primates, persist intact in descent to present-day simians but in the line to hominoids it evolved during the last 40 million years at the decelerated rate of 1 X 10(-9) substitutions/site per year which is one-fifth the expected neutral rate. The possibility is suggested that the psi eta locus situated between fetal and adult chromosomal domains of the simian beta-globin gene cluster might play some role in a mechanism for ontogenetic switches of globin gene expression. However, not enough sequence data on genes and intergenic regions in DNA of species of primates and other mammals as yet exist to know if the slow rate of 1 X 10(-9) reflects the rate of a conserved functional gene or primarily reflects a decelerated neutral rate of hominoid DNA evolution, conceivably from enhanced DNA repair and longer generation times in hominoids. The further possibility is raised that gene correction (repair of damaged DNA that prevents emergence of new alleles) and gene conversion both more often involve strand copying of conserved than of rapidly evolving DNA.

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