Functional Divergence of Former Alleles in an Ancient Asexual Invertebrate

Science  12 Oct 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5848, pp. 268-271
DOI: 10.1126/science.1144363

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Theory suggests it should be difficult for asexual organisms to adapt to a changing environment because genetic diversity can only arise from mutations accumulating within direct antecedents and not through sexual exchange. In an asexual microinvertebrate, the bdelloid rotifer, we have observed a mechanism by which such organisms could acquire the diversity needed for adaptation. Gene copies most likely representing former alleles have diverged in function so that the proteins they encode play complementary roles in survival of dry conditions. One protein prevents desiccation-sensitive enzymes from aggregating during drying, whereas its counterpart does not have this activity, but is able to associate with phospholipid bilayers and is potentially involved in maintenance of membrane integrity. The functional divergence of former alleles observed here suggests that adoption of asexual reproduction could itself be an evolutionary mechanism for the generation of diversity.

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