BackgroundMost eukaryotic genomes have undergone whole genome duplications during their evolutionary history. Recent studies have shown that the function of these duplicated genes can diverge from the ancestral gene via neo- or sub-functionalization within single genotypes. An additional possibility is that gene duplicates may also undergo partitioning of function among different genotypes of a species leading to genetic differentiation. Finally, the ability of gene duplicates to diverge may be limited by their biological function.
Methodology/principal findingsTo test these hypotheses, I estimated the impact of gene duplication and metabolic function upon intraspecific gene expression variation of segmental and tandem duplicated genes within Arabidopsis thaliana. In all instances, the younger tandem duplicated genes showed higher intraspecific gene expression variation than the average Arabidopsis gene. Surprisingly, the older segmental duplicates also showed evidence of elevated intraspecific gene expression variation albeit typically lower than for the tandem duplicates. The specific biological function of the gene as defined by metabolic pathway also modulated the level of intraspecific gene expression variation. The major energy metabolism and biosynthetic pathways showed decreased variation, suggesting that they are constrained in their ability to accumulate gene expression variation. In contrast, a major herbivory defense pathway showed significantly elevated intraspecific variation suggesting that it may be under pressure to maintain and/or generate diversity in response to fluctuating insect herbivory pressures.
ConclusionThese data show that intraspecific variation in gene expression is facilitated by an interaction of gene duplication and biological activity. Further, this plays a role in controlling diversity of plant metabolism.