Evolution of tissue-specific expression of ancestral genes across vertebrates and insects

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Regulation of gene expression is arguably the main mechanism underlying the phenotypic diversity of tissues within and between species. Here we assembled an extensive transcriptomic dataset covering 8 tissues across 20 bilaterian species and performed analyses using a symmetric phylogeny that allowed the combined and parallel investigation of gene expression evolution between vertebrates and insects. We specifically focused on widely conserved ancestral genes, identifying strong cores of pan-bilaterian tissue-specific genes and even larger groups that diverged to define vertebrate and insect tissues. Systematic inferences of tissue-specificity gains and losses show that nearly half of all ancestral genes have been recruited into tissue-specific transcriptomes. This occurred during both ancient and, especially, recent bilaterian evolution, with several gains being associated with the emergence of unique phenotypes (for example, novel cell types). Such pervasive evolution of tissue specificity was linked to gene duplication coupled with expression specialization of one of the copies, revealing an unappreciated prolonged effect of whole-genome duplications on recent vertebrate evolution.




Mantica, F., Iñiguez, L. P., Marquez, Y., Permanyer, J., Torres-Mendez, A., Cruz, J., … Irimia, M. (2024). Evolution of tissue-specific expression of ancestral genes across vertebrates and insects. Nature Ecology and Evolution, 8(6), 1140–1153. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-024-02398-5

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