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Open Access Research article

Gene alterations at Drosophila inversion breakpoints provide prima facie evidence for natural selection as an explanation for rapid chromosomal evolution

Yolanda Guillén and Alfredo Ruiz*

Author affiliations

Departament de Genètica i de Microbiologia, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193 Bellaterra (Barcelona), Spain

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2012, 13:53  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-53

Published: 1 February 2012

Abstract

Background

Chromosomal inversions have been pervasive during the evolution of the genus Drosophila, but there is significant variation between lineages in the rate of rearrangement fixation. D. mojavensis, an ecological specialist adapted to a cactophilic niche under extreme desert conditions, is a chromosomally derived species with ten fixed inversions, five of them not present in any other species.

Results

In order to explore the causes of the rapid chromosomal evolution in D. mojavensis, we identified and characterized all breakpoints of seven inversions fixed in chromosome 2, the most dynamic one. One of the inversions presents unequivocal evidence for its generation by ectopic recombination between transposon copies and another two harbor inverted duplications of non-repetitive DNA at the two breakpoints and were likely generated by staggered single-strand breaks and repair by non-homologous end joining. Four out of 14 breakpoints lay in the intergenic region between preexisting duplicated genes, suggesting an adaptive advantage of separating previously tightly linked duplicates. Four out of 14 breakpoints are associated with transposed genes, suggesting these breakpoints are fragile regions. Finally two inversions contain novel genes at their breakpoints and another three show alterations of genes at breakpoints with potential adaptive significance.

Conclusions

D. mojavensis chromosomal inversions were generated by multiple mechanisms, an observation that does not provide support for increased mutation rate as explanation for rapid chromosomal evolution. On the other hand, we have found a number of gene alterations at the breakpoints with putative adaptive consequences that directly point to natural selection as the cause of D. mojavensis rapid chromosomal evolution.

Keywords:
Inversion breakpoints; mutation rate; chromosomal evolution; transposable elements; gene duplication; gene transposition; position effects