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Polyphenism is an extreme manifestation of developmental plasticity, requiring distinct developmental programs and the addition of a switch mechanism. Because the genetic basis of polyphenism switches has only begun to be understood, how their mechanisms arise is unclear. In the nematode Pristionchus pacificus, which has a mouthpart polyphenism specialized for alternative diets, a gene (eud-1) executing the polyphenism switch was recently identified as the product of lineage-specific duplications. Here, we infer the role of gene duplications in producing a switch gene. Using reverse genetics and population genetic analyses, we examine evidence for competing scenarios of degeneration and complementation, neutral evolution, and functional specialization. Of the daughter genes, eud-1 alone has assumed switch-like regulation of the mouth polyphenism. Measurements of life-history traits in single, double, and triple sulfatase mutants did not, given a benign environment, identify alternative or complementary roles for eud-1 paralogs. Although possible roles are still unknown, selection analyses of the sister species and 104 natural isolates of P. pacificus detected purifying selection on the genes, suggesting their functionality by their fixation and evolutionary maintenance. Our approach shows the tractability of reverse genetics in a nontraditional model system to study evolution by gene duplication. © 2016 The Author(s). Evolution © 2016 The Society for the Study of Evolution.


Erik J Ragsdale, Nicholas A Ivers. Specialization of a polyphenism switch gene following serial duplications in Pristionchus nematodes. Evolution; international journal of organic evolution. 2016 Sep;70(9):2155-66

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PMID: 27436344

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