The duplication of genes followed by selection is perhaps the most prominent way in which molecular biological systems gain multiplicity, diversity and functional complexity in evolution. Whole genome duplications (WGDs) therefore have the potential of generating an extraordinary amount of evolutionary innovation. It is now accepted that the vertebrate lineage has gone through two rounds of WGD in its early stages, after the divergence of invertebrate chordates and before the emergence of jawed vertebrates. These basal vertebrate WGDs are called 2R for two rounds of whole genome duplication. An additional WGD called 3R occurred early in the evolution of teleost fishes, before the radiation of this species-rich group. This thesis describes the evolution of several endocrine and neuronal gene families in relation to the vertebrate WGDs, through a comparative genomic approach including both phylogenetic analyses and chromosomal location data across a wide range of vertebrate taxa.
These results show that numerous endocrine gene families have expanded in 2R and in several cases also in 3R. These include the gene families of oxytocin and vasopressin receptors (OT/VP-R), somatostatin receptors (SSTR) and insulin-like growth factor binding proteins (IGFBP). For the OT/VP-R and SSTR families, previously undescribed subtypes were identified. The protein hormone family that includes growth hormone (GH), prolactin (PRL) and somatolactin (SL) acquired a new PRL gene in 2R, however the origins of GH, PRL and SL likely predate 2R. The corresponding family of receptors diversified during different time periods through a combination of local duplications and 3R.
Neuronal gene families of the visual system have also expanded in 2R and 3R. The results presented here demonstrate that the vertebrate repertoire of visual opsin genes arose in 2R as part of chromosomal blocks that also include the OT/VP-R genes. The gene families including the transducin alpha, beta and gamma subunits also arose in 2R, hinting at the importance of these events in the diversification and specialization of phototransduction cascades for rods and cones.
Thus, the whole genome duplications have been important contributors to the evolution of both vision and endocrine regulation in the vertebrates.