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Open Access Research article

Arm-specific dynamics of chromosome evolution in malaria mosquitoes

Maria V Sharakhova1, Ai Xia13, Scotland C Leman2 and Igor V Sharakhov1*

  • * Corresponding author: Igor V Sharakhov

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Entomology, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA

2 Department of Statistics, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA

3 Current Address: Entomology department, Nanjing Agricultural University, Nanjing, 210095, P.R. of China

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:91  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-91

Published: 7 April 2011



The malaria mosquito species of subgenus Cellia have rich inversion polymorphisms that correlate with environmental variables. Polymorphic inversions tend to cluster on the chromosomal arms 2R and 2L but not on X, 3R and 3L in Anopheles gambiae and homologous arms in other species. However, it is unknown whether polymorphic inversions on homologous chromosomal arms of distantly related species from subgenus Cellia nonrandomly share similar sets of genes. It is also unclear if the evolutionary breakage of inversion-poor chromosomal arms is under constraints.


To gain a better understanding of the arm-specific differences in the rates of genome rearrangements, we compared gene orders and established syntenic relationships among Anopheles gambiae, Anopheles funestus, and Anopheles stephensi. We provided evidence that polymorphic inversions on the 2R arms in these three species nonrandomly captured similar sets of genes. This nonrandom distribution of genes was not only a result of preservation of ancestral gene order but also an outcome of extensive reshuffling of gene orders that created new combinations of homologous genes within independently originated polymorphic inversions. The statistical analysis of distribution of conserved gene orders demonstrated that the autosomal arms differ in their tolerance to generating evolutionary breakpoints. The fastest evolving 2R autosomal arm was enriched with gene blocks conserved between only a pair of species. In contrast, all identified syntenic blocks were preserved on the slowly evolving 3R arm of An. gambiae and on the homologous arms of An. funestus and An. stephensi.


Our results suggest that natural selection favors specific gene combinations within polymorphic inversions when distant species are exposed to similar environmental pressures. This knowledge could be useful for the discovery of genes responsible for an association of inversion polymorphisms with phenotypic variations in multiple species. Our data support the chromosomal arm specificity in rates of gene order disruption during mosquito evolution. We conclude that the distribution of breakpoint regions is evolutionary conserved on slowly evolving arms and tends to be lineage-specific on rapidly evolving arms.