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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

The rarity of gene shuffling in conserved genes

Gavin C Conant1* and Andreas Wagner2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Genetics, Smurfit Institute, University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland

2 Department of Biology, The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001, USA

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Genome Biology 2005, 6:R50  doi:10.1186/gb-2005-6-6-r50

Published: 9 May 2005

Abstract

Background

Among three sources of evolutionary innovation in gene function - point mutations, gene duplications, and gene shuffling (recombination between dissimilar genes) - gene shuffling is the most potent one. However, surprisingly little is known about its incidence on a genome-wide scale.

Results

We have studied shuffling in genes that are conserved between distantly related species. Specifically, we estimated the incidence of gene shuffling in ten organisms from the three domains of life: eukaryotes, eubacteria, and archaea, considering only genes showing significant sequence similarity in pairwise genome comparisons. We found that successful gene shuffling is very rare among such conserved genes. For example, we could detect only 48 successful gene-shuffling events in the genome of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster which have occurred since its common ancestor with the worm Caenorhabditis elegans more than half a billion years ago.

Conclusion

The incidence of gene shuffling is roughly an order of magnitude smaller than the incidence of single-gene duplication in eukaryotes, but it can approach or even exceed the gene-duplication rate in prokaryotes. If true in general, this pattern suggests that gene shuffling may not be a major force in reshaping the core genomes of eukaryotes. Our results also cast doubt on the notion that introns facilitate gene shuffling, both because prokaryotes show an appreciable incidence of gene shuffling despite their lack of introns and because we find no statistical association between exon-intron boundaries and recombined domains in the two multicellular genomes we studied.