Evidence for GC-biased gene conversion as a driver of between-lineage differences in avian base composition.

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BACKGROUND: While effective population size (Ne) and life history traits such as generation time are known to impact substitution rates, their potential effects on base composition evolution are less well understood. GC content increases with decreasing body mass in mammals, consistent with recombination-associated GC biased gene conversion (gBGC) more strongly impacting these lineages. However, shifts in chromosomal architecture and recombination landscapes between species may complicate the interpretation of these results. In birds, interchromosomal rearrangements are rare and the recombination landscape is conserved, suggesting that this group is well suited to assess the impact of life history on base composition. RESULTS: Employing data from 45 newly and 3 previously sequenced avian genomes covering a broad range of taxa, we found that lineages with large populations and short generations exhibit higher GC content. The effect extends to both coding and non-coding sites, indicating that it is not due to selection on codon usage. Consistent with recombination driving base composition, GC content and heterogeneity were positively correlated with the rate of recombination. Moreover, we observed ongoing increases in GC in the majority of lineages. CONCLUSIONS: Our results provide evidence that gBGC may drive patterns of nucleotide composition in avian genomes and are consistent with more effective gBGC in large populations and a greater number of meioses per unit time; that is, a shorter generation time. Thus, in accord with theoretical predictions, base composition evolution is substantially modulated by species life history.





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Weber, Claudia C, Bastien Boussau, Jonathan Romiguier, Erich D Jarvis and Hans Ellegren (2014). Evidence for GC-biased gene conversion as a driver of between-lineage differences in avian base composition. Genome Biol, 15(12). p. 549. 10.1186/s13059-014-0549-1 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/9313.

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Erich David Jarvis

Adjunct Professor in the Deptartment of Neurobiology

Dr. Jarvis' laboratory studies the neurobiology of vocal communication. Emphasis is placed on the molecular pathways involved in the perception and production of learned vocalizations. They use an integrative approach that combines behavioral, anatomical, electrophysiological and molecular biological techniques. The main animal model used is songbirds, one of the few vertebrate groups that evolved the ability to learn vocalizations. The generality of the discoveries is tested in other vocal learning orders, such as parrots and hummingbirds, as well as non-vocal learners, such as pigeons and non-human primates. Some of the questions require performing behavior/molecular biology experiments in freely ranging animals, such as hummingbirds in tropical forest of Brazil. Recent results show that in songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds, perception and production of song are accompanied by anatomically distinct patterns of gene expression. All three groups were found to exhibit vocally-activated gene expression in exactly 7 forebrain nuclei that are very similar to each other. These structures for vocal learning and production are thought to have evolved independently within the past 70 million years, since they are absent from interrelated non-vocal learning orders. One structure, Area X of the basal ganglia's striatum in songbirds, shows large differential gene activation depending on the social context in which the bird sings. These differences may reflect a semantic content of song, perhaps similar to human language.

The overall goal of the research is to advance knowledge of the neural mechanisms for vocal learning and basic mechanisms of brain function. These goals are further achieved by combined collaborative efforts with the laboratories of Drs. Mooney and Nowicki at Duke University, who study respectively behavior and electrophysiological aspects of songbird vocal communication.

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