Article: article from journal or magazin.
Relaxed selection is a precursor to the evolution of phenotypic plasticity.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Phenotypic plasticity allows organisms to produce alternative phenotypes under different conditions and represents one of the most important ways by which organisms adaptively respond to the environment. However, the relationship between phenotypic plasticity and molecular evolution remains poorly understood. We addressed this issue by investigating the evolution of genes associated with phenotypically plastic castes, sexes, and developmental stages of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. We first determined if genes associated with phenotypic plasticity in S. invicta evolved at a rapid rate, as predicted under theoretical models. We found that genes differentially expressed between S. invicta castes, sexes, and developmental stages all exhibited elevated rates of evolution compared with ubiquitously expressed genes. We next investigated the evolutionary history of genes associated with the production of castes. Surprisingly, we found that orthologs of caste-biased genes in S. invicta and the social bee Apis mellifera evolved rapidly in lineages without castes. Thus, in contrast to some theoretical predictions, our results suggest that rapid rates of molecular evolution may not arise primarily as a consequence of phenotypic plasticity. Instead, genes evolving under relaxed purifying selection may more readily adopt new forms of biased expression during the evolution of alternate phenotypes. These results suggest that relaxed selective constraint on protein-coding genes is an important and underappreciated element in the evolutionary origin of phenotypic plasticity.
eusociality, protein evolution, social insect, sexual dimorphism, sex-biased gene expression
Web of science
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