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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Tandem gene arrays in Trypanosoma brucei: Comparative phylogenomic analysis of duplicate sequence variation

Andrew P Jackson

Author Affiliations

Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, CB10 1SA, UK

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:54  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-54

Published: 4 April 2007

Abstract

Background

The genome sequence of the protistan parasite Trypanosoma brucei contains many tandem gene arrays. Gene duplicates are created through tandem duplication and are expressed through polycistronic transcription, suggesting that the primary purpose of long, tandem arrays is to increase gene dosage in an environment where individual gene promoters are absent. This report presents the first account of the tandem gene arrays in the T. brucei genome, employing several related genome sequences to establish how variation is created and removed.

Results

A systematic survey of tandem gene arrays showed that substantial sequence variation existed across the genome; variation from different regions of an array often produced inconsistent phylogenetic affinities. Phylogenetic relationships of gene duplicates were consistent with concerted evolution being a widespread homogenising force. However, tandem duplicates were not usually identical; therefore, any homogenising effect was coincident with divergence among duplicates. Allelic gene conversion was detected using various criteria and was apparently able to both remove and introduce sequence variation. Tandem arrays containing structural heterogeneity demonstrated how sequence homogenisation and differentiation can occur within a single locus.

Conclusion

The use of multiple genome sequences in a comparative analysis of tandem gene arrays identified substantial sequence variation among gene duplicates. The distribution of sequence variation is determined by a dynamic balance of conservative and innovative evolutionary forces. Gene trees from various species showed that intraspecific duplicates evolve in concert, perhaps through frequent gene conversion, although this does not prevent sequence divergence, especially where structural heterogeneity physically separates a duplicate from its neighbours. In describing dynamics of sequence variation that have consequences beyond gene dosage, this survey provides a basis for uncovering the hidden functionality within tandem gene arrays in trypanosomatids.