Divergence and Functional Degradation of a Sex Chromosome-like Supergene

Current Biology : CB
Elaina M TuttleChristopher N Balakrishnan


A major challenge in biology is to understand the genetic basis of adaptation. One compelling idea is that groups of tightly linked genes (i.e., "supergenes" [1, 2]) facilitate adaptation in suites of traits that determine fitness. Despite their likely importance, little is known about how alternate supergene alleles arise and become differentiated, nor their ultimate fate within species. Herein we address these questions by investigating the evolutionary history of a supergene in white-throated sparrows, Zonotrichia albicollis. This species comprises two morphs, tan and white, that differ in pigmentation and components of social behavior [3-5]. Morph is determined by alternative alleles at a balanced >100-Mb inversion-based supergene, providing a unique system for studying gene-behavior relationships. Using over two decades of field data, we document near-perfect disassortative mating among morphs, as well as the fitness consequences of rare assortative mating. We use de novo whole-genome sequencing coupled with population- and phylogenomic data to show that alternate supergene alleles are highly divergent at over 1,000 genes and that these alleles originated prior to the split of Z. albicollis from its sister species and may ...Continue Reading


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