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Complex Interplay of Evolutionary Forces in the ladybird Homeobox Genes of Drosophila melanogaster

  • Author(s): Balakirev, Evgeniy S.
  • Anisimova, Maria
  • Ayala, Francisco J.
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Tandemly arranged paralogous genes lbe and lbl are members of the Drosophila NK homeobox family. We analyzed population samples of Drosophila melanogaster from Africa, Europe, North and South America, and single strains of D. sechellia, D. simulans, and D. yakuba within two linked regions encompassing partial sequences of lbe and lbl. The evolution of lbe and lbl is highly constrained due to their important regulatory functions. Despite this, a variety of forces have shaped the patterns of variation in lb genes: recombination, intragenic gene conversion and natural selection strongly influence background variation created by linkage disequilibrium and dimorphic haplotype structure. The two genes exhibited similar levels of nucleotide diversity and positive selection was detected in the noncoding regions of both genes. However, synonymous variability was significantly higher for lbe: no nonsynonymous changes were observed in this gene. We argue that balancing selection impacts some synonymous sites of the lbe gene. Stability of mRNA secondary structure was significantly different between the lbe (but not lbl) haplotype groups and may represent a driving force of balancing selection in epistatically interacting synonymous sites. Balancing selection on synonymous sites may be the first, or one of a few such observations, in Drosophila. In contrast, recurrent positive selection on lbl at the protein level influenced evolution at three codon sites. Transcription factor binding-site profiles were different for lbe and lbl, suggesting that their developmental functions are not redundant. Combined with our previous results on nucleotide variation in esterase and other homeobox genes, these results suggest that interplay of balancing and directional selection may be a general feature of molecular evolution in Drosophila and other eukaryote genomes.

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