Hard Selective Sweep and Ectopic Gene Conversion in a Gene Cluster Affording Environmental Adaptation

Abstract : Among the rare colonizers of heavy-metal rich toxic soils, Arabidopsis halleri is a compelling model extremophile, physiologically distinct from its sister species A. lyrata, and A. thaliana. Naturally selected metal hypertolerance and extraordinarily high leaf metal accumulation in A. halleri both require Heavy Metal ATPase4 (HMA4) encoding a PIB-type ATPase that pumps Zn2+ and Cd2+ out of specific cell types. Strongly enhanced HMA4 expression results from a combination of gene copy number expansion and cis-regulatory modifications, when compared to A. thaliana. These findings were based on a single accession of A. halleri. Few studies have addressed nucleotide sequence polymorphism at loci known to govern adaptations. We thus sequenced 13 DNA segments across the HMA4 genomic region of multiple A. halleri individuals from diverse habitats. Compared to control loci flanking the three tandem HMA4 gene copies, a gradual depletion of nucleotide sequence diversity and an excess of low-frequency polymorphisms are hallmarks of positive selection in HMA4 promoter regions, culminating at HMA4-3. The accompanying hard selective sweep is segmentally eclipsed as a consequence of recurrent ectopic gene conversion among HMA4 protein-coding sequences, resulting in their concerted evolution. Thus, HMA4 coding sequences exhibit a network-like genealogy and locally enhanced nucleotide sequence diversity within each copy, accompanied by lowered sequence divergence between paralogs in any given individual. Quantitative PCR corroborated that, across A. halleri, three genomic HMA4 copies generate overall 20- to 130-fold higher transcript levels than in A. thaliana. Together, our observations constitute an unexpectedly complex profile of polymorphism resulting from natural selection for increased gene product dosage. We propose that these findings are paradigmatic of a category of multi-copy genes from a broad range of organisms. Our results emphasize that enhanced gene product dosage, in addition to neo- and sub-functionalization, can account for the genomic maintenance of gene duplicates underlying environmental adaptation.
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Marc Hanikenne, Juergen Kroymann, Aleksandra Trampczynska, Maria Bernal, Patrick Motte, et al.. Hard Selective Sweep and Ectopic Gene Conversion in a Gene Cluster Affording Environmental Adaptation. PLoS Genetics, Public Library of Science, 2014, 9 (8), pp.e1003707. ⟨10.1371/journal.pgen.1003707⟩. ⟨hal-01005947⟩

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