Schmitz, JF and Chain, F and Bornberg-Bauer, E
Evolution of novel genes in three-spined stickleback populations
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Eukaryotic genomes frequently acquire new protein coding genes which may significantly impact an organism’s fitness. Novel genes can be created, for example, by duplication of large genomic regions or de novo, from previously non-coding DNA. Either way, creation of a novel transcript is an essential early step during novel gene emergence. Most studies on the gain-and-loss dynamics of novel genes so far have compared genomes between species, constraining analyses to genes that have remained fixed over long time scales. However, the importance of novel genes for rapid adaptation among populations has recently been shown. Therefore, since little is known about the evolutionary dynamics of transcripts across natural populations, we here study transcriptomes from several tissues and nine geographically distinct populations of an ecological model species, the three-spined stickleback. Our findings suggest that novel genes typically start out as transcripts with low expression and high tissue specificity. Early expression regulation appears to be mediated by gene-body methylation. Although most new and narrowly expressed genes are rapidly lost, those that survive and subsequently spread through populations tend to gain broader and higher expression levels. The properties of the encoded proteins, such as disorder and aggregation propensity, hardly change. Correspondingly, young novel genes are not preferentially under positive selection but older novel genes more often overlap with FST outlier regions. Taken together, expression of the surviving novel genes is rapidly regulated, probably via epigenetic mechanisms, while structural properties of encoded proteins are non-debilitating and might only change much later.