Evolution of Orthologous Intronless and Intron-Bearing Globin Genes in Two Insect Species
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While globin genes ctt-2β and ctt-9.1 in Chironomus thummi thummi each have a single intron, all of the other insect globin genes reported so far are intronless. We analyzed four globin genes linked to the two intron-bearing genes in C. th. thummi. Three have a single intron at the same position as ctt-2β and ctt-9.1; the fourth is intronless and lies between intron bearing genes. Finally, in addition to its intron, one gene (ctt-13RT) was recently interrupted by retrotransposition. Phylogenetic analyses show that the six genes in C. th. thummi share common ancestry with five globin genes in the distantly related species C. tentans, and that a 5-gene ancestral cluster predates the divergence of the two species. One gene in the ancestral cluster gave rise to ctn-ORFB in C. tentans, and duplicated in C. th. thummi to create ctt-11 and ctt-12. From parsimonious calculations of evolutionary distances since speciation, ctt-11, ctt-12, and ctn-ORFB evolved rapidly, while ctn-ORFE in C. tentans evolved slowly compared to other globin genes in the clusters. While these four globins are under selective pressure, we suggest that most chironomid globin genes were not selected for their unique function. Instead, we propose that high gene copy number itself was selected because conditions favored organisms that could synthesize more hemoglobin. High gene copy number selection to produce more of a useful product may be the basis of forming multigene families, all of whose members initially accumulate neutral substitutions while retaining essential function. Maintenance of a large family of globin genes not only ensured high levels of hemoglobin production, but may have facilitated the extensive divergence of chironomids into as many as 5000 species.
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