Gene Conversion and DNA Sequence Polymorphism in the Sex-Determination Gene fog-2 and Its Paralog ftr-1 in Caenorhabditis elegans
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Gene conversion, a form of concerted evolution, bears enormous potential to shape the trajectory of sequence and functional divergence of gene paralogs subsequent to duplication events. fog-2, a sex-determination gene unique to Caenorhabditis elegans and implicated in the origin of hermaphroditism in this species, resulted from the duplication of ftr-1, an upstream gene of unknown function. Synonymous sequence divergence in regions of fog-2 and ftr-1 (excluding recent gene conversion tracts) suggests that the duplication occurred 46 million generations ago. Gene conversion between fog-2 and ftr-1 was previously discovered in experimental fog-2 knockout lines of C. elegans, whereby hermaphroditism was restored in mutant obligately outcrossing male-female populations. We analyzed DNA-sequence variation in fog-2 and ftr-1 within 40 isolates of C. elegans from diverse geographic locations in order to evaluate the contribution of gene conversion to genetic variation in the two gene paralogs. The analysis shows that gene conversion contributes significantly to DNA-sequence diversity in fog-2 and ftr-1 (22% and 34%, respectively) and may have the potential to alter sexual phenotypes in natural populations. A radical amino acid change in a conserved region of the F-box domain of fog-2 was found in natural isolates of C. elegans with significantly lower fecundity. We hypothesize that the lowered fecundity is due to reduced masculinization and less sperm production and that amino acid replacement substitutions and gene conversion in fog-2 may contribute significantly to variation in the degree of inbreeding and outcrossing in natural populations.
author list (cited authors)
Rane, H. S., Smith, J. M., Bergthorsson, U., & Katju, V.