Category Archives: evolution

Does gene function predict molecular evolutionary rate?
Gene sequences evolve at different rates due to different constraints, either due to chromosome position, functional constraint, and status as a single-copy or multi-copy gene.  In a recent paper, Allen Rodrigo (the new NESCent director by the, way, congrats!) the authors hypothesize that correlation in branch lengths of gene trees suggest they operate in the same pathway or have a similar function.  To do this they took alignments of orthologous genes from 10 bacterial species which were seeded with E. coli as the target species.  The alignments were used to build trees with MrBayes and only those which recovered the known species topology were retained. The ortholog groups were assigned GO terms via similarities.

They then looked at the branch lengths of gene trees and found a correlation between GO categories and rates of gene evolution/shape of the tree.  I’ll not go into more details here but I think this is an interesting finding that is probably not so surprising when you think about it.  I’m be very curious to see if this held up much in multi-domained proteins as well and of course taking this approach for a drive in fungal orthologs would be an interesting project for someone to try.

Li WL, & Rodrigo AG (2009). Covariation of branch lengths in phylogenies of functionally related genes. PloS one, 4 (12) e8487. PMID: 20041191. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008487

Origins and evolution of pathogens An article in PLoS Pathogens by Morris et al describe a hypothesis about the evolution and origins of plant pathogens applying the parallel theories to the emergence of medically relevant pathogens. The authors highlight the importance of understanding the evolution of organisms in the context of emerging pathogens like Puccinia Ug99 for our ability to design strategies to protect human health and food supplies.  Both bacterial and fungal pathogens of plants are discussed but I (perhaps unsurprisingly) focus on the fungi here. Continue reading Origins and evolution of pathogens

Early branching genomes available

Genome sequencing is underway on several early branches in the Opisthokont and some related linages as part of the “Origins of Multicellularity” project at the Broad Institute (BI) include some recently made available assemblies for:

  • Allomyces macrogynus (Blastocladiomycota “Chytrid”)
  • Capsaspora owczarzaki (Ichthyosporea)

Already available data from

Still in progress (BI)

Still in progress (Other centers)

Monophyly of Taphrinomycotina

A recent paper in MBE  presents evidence that the Taphrinomycota (containing S. pombe and Pneumocystis) are in fact a monophyletic group. This is considered an early branch in the Ascomycota with the Pezizomycotina (filamentous ascomycete fungi like Neurospora and Aspergillus) and Saccharomycotina (fungi mainly with yeast forms including Candida and Saccharomyces).  The monophyly of Taphrinomyoctina fungi is something that has been fairly accepted but there are a few publications reporting  conflicting evidence in some sets gene trees. This conflict is most likely due to Long Branch Attraction (LBA) and the Philippe lab has long worked on this problem of LBA working to develop tools like PhyloBayes that attempt to correct for LBA with a parameter rich model and using lots of data (like whole genomes).  These authors are employing phylogenomics in the sense that multiple genes are used to reconstruct the phylogeny.  This use is different from the J.Eisen/Sjölander sense which is to infer gene function from a phylogeny.

This paper presents evidence using proteins of 113 mitochondrial and nuclear genes and finds strong statistical support for this monophyly.  They also note that it was necessary to remove fast evolving sites from a dataset of only mitochondrial genes in order to overcome LBA artifacts that lead to Saccharomyces and S. pombe sister relationship in previous analyses.

This paper also presents work using the Pneumocystis genome sequence helps resolve its placement and eventually understanding the evolution of this pathogen.  In this tree the sister group to Pneumocystis is Schizosaccharomyces but both lineages have very long branches.  The Saitoella lineage is basal in this paper which is different from what was found with a 4 gene (AFTOL) dataset (see Figure 2). Further work sampling more genes from these Taphrina lineages will likely help resolve the intra-clade relationships.

Y. Liu, J. W. Leigh, H. Brinkmann, M. T. Cushion, N. Rodriguez-Ezpeleta, H. Philippe, B. F. Lang (2008). Phylogenomic Analyses Support the Monophyly of Taphrinomycotina, including Schizosaccharomyces Fission Yeasts Molecular Biology and Evolution, 26 (1), 27-34 DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msn221

Melampsora larici-populina genome sequenced

From Francis Martin

The DNA sequence of Melampsora larici-populina has been determined by the U.S. Department of Energy DOE Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI). Annotations of the v1.0 assembly of Melampsora laricis-populina are publicly available at
Genome analyses have been carried out by an international consortium comprised of DOE JGI, France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research (F Martin et al., INRA-Nancy), Canadian Forest Service (R Hamelin et al., Laurentian Forestry Centre), and the Bioinformatics & Evolutionary Genomics Division (Rouzé et al., Gent University) in Belgium.

The poplar leaf rust fungus Melampsora is the most devastating and widespread pathogen of poplars, and has limited the use of poplars for environmental and wood production goals in many parts of the world. All known poplar cultivars are susceptible to Melampsora species, and new virulent strains are continuously developing. This disease therefore has a strong potential impact on current and future poplar plantations used for production of forest products (principally pulp and consolidated wood products), carbon sequestration, biofuels production, and bioremediation.

Amphibian skin bacteria shown to fight off Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis.

A year ago researchers at James Madison University discovered that, Pedobacter cryoconitis, a bacteria first found on the skin of red backed salamanders, was found to prevent the growth of the chytrid B. dendrobatidis, which is currently decimating frog populations.

(Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog from wikipedia)

The newest research on the subject is being presented this year at ASM by Brianna Lam who worked with other biologists from both San Francisco State University and JMU.

Lam’s research indicates that adding pedobacter to the skin of mountain yellow-legged frogs would lessen the effects of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a lethal skin pathogen that is threatening remaining populations of the frogs in their native Sierra Nevada habitats.

Lam first conducted petri dish experiments that clearly showed the skin bacteria repelling the deadly fungus. She then tested pedobacter on live infected frogs, bathing some of them in a pedobacter solution. The frogs bathed in pedobacter solution lost less weight than those in a control group of infected frogs that were not inoculated.

In addition to the lab experiments, the JMU and SFSU researchers have studied the yellow-legged frogs in their natural habitats and discovered that some populations with the lethal skin disease survive while others go extinct. The populations that survived had significantly higher proportions of individuals with anti-Bd bacteria. The results strongly suggest that a threshold frequency of individuals need to have anti-Bd bacteria to allow a population to persist with Bd. (from Eureka alert)

The research above is really interesting and I am curious as to how the bacteria is actually killing the chytrid. The only other research I can think of where chytrids were being killed was a BBC news article that wrote about scientists bathing frogs in chloramphenicol.

Chlamy genome investigations

Chlamy coverThis month’s Genetics has a series of articles exploring the genome (published last year & freely available at Science) of the green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. These manuscripts are primarily genome analyses making for a very bioinformatics focused issue of Genetics. Some of the highlights include:

Invasion of not so tasty truffles.

(Truffle picture from

The BBC (link) has an interesting article about a  Chinese Black truffle being found as an invasive species in Italy. The Italian’s and European truffle aficionados are worried that the Chinese Black Truffle will outcompete the Perigord Black truffle, which is supposed to be very tasty and the second most expensive truffle by weight, behind only the Piedmont White Truffle.

The scientific journal article (link) the BBC cites is present in the new phytologist and was authored by a lab from the “Dipartimento di Biologia Vegetale dell’Università di Torino. Looks like the Chinese truffle species could be a good invasive species model and also economically important.

Truffles are interesting its amazing people would pay so much for a mushroom, sadly I can’t say if one tastes better than the other since I have not had the chance to try of the truffles mentioned above.

A lot can happen after a few drinks: Saccharomyces hybridization

We may have to reevaluate whether Saccharomyces cerevisiae alone is the species used to brew beer.  A paper from Gonzalez et al describes results from PCRRFLP comparison of 24 brewing strains identifies evidence for S. cerevisiae x S. kudriavzevii hybrids.  Although this hybridization is not unprecedented, most seem to be related to cultivated brewing or fermentation strains.  It seems that the hybrids are better able to cope with the stress associated with fermentation process.

Sacch tree

It seems these would also be a great test system for more whole genome sequencing or at least more polymorphism comparisons to try and determine the proportion of the genome that comes from different parents and estimate timing and frequency of hybridization.  It seems possible that the hybridizations are occurring multiple times in nature so are the same regions from each parental genome kept in the hybrid offspring that are selected for fitness under fermentation stress?

Gonzalez, S.S., Barrio, E., Querol, A. (2008). Molecular Characterization of New Natural Hybrids of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and S. kudriavzevii in Brewing . Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 74(8), 2314-2320. DOI: 10.1128/AEM.01867-07