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Open Access Research article

Gene duplication in the genome of parasitic Giardia lamblia

Jun Sun12, Huifeng Jiang13, Roberto Flores3 and Jianfan Wen1*

Author Affiliations

1 State Key Laboratory of Genetic Resources and Evolution, Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Kunming, Yunnan 650223, PR China

2 Graduate School of Chinese Academy Sciences, Beijing 100039, PR China

3 Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:49  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-49

Published: 17 February 2010

Abstract

Background

Giardia are a group of widespread intestinal protozoan parasites in a number of vertebrates. Much evidence from G. lamblia indicated they might be the most primitive extant eukaryotes. When and how such a group of the earliest branching unicellular eukaryotes developed the ability to successfully parasitize the latest branching higher eukaryotes (vertebrates) is an intriguing question. Gene duplication has long been thought to be the most common mechanism in the production of primary resources for the origin of evolutionary novelties. In order to parse the evolutionary trajectory of Giardia parasitic lifestyle, here we carried out a genome-wide analysis about gene duplication patterns in G. lamblia.

Results

Although genomic comparison showed that in G. lamblia the contents of many fundamental biologic pathways are simplified and the whole genome is very compact, in our study 40% of its genes were identified as duplicated genes. Evolutionary distance analyses of these duplicated genes indicated two rounds of large scale duplication events had occurred in G. lamblia genome. Functional annotation of them further showed that the majority of recent duplicated genes are VSPs (Variant-specific Surface Proteins), which are essential for the successful parasitic life of Giardia in hosts. Based on evolutionary comparison with their hosts, it was found that the rapid expansion of VSPs in G. lamblia is consistent with the evolutionary radiation of placental mammals.

Conclusions

Based on the genome-wide analysis of duplicated genes in G. lamblia, we found that gene duplication was essential for the origin and evolution of Giardia parasitic lifestyle. The recent expansion of VSPs uniquely occurring in G. lamblia is consistent with the increment of its hosts. Therefore we proposed a hypothesis that the increment of Giradia hosts might be the driving force for the rapid expansion of VSPs.