Genomic basis for the convergent evolution of electric organs

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Science  27 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6191, pp. 1522-1525
DOI: 10.1126/science.1254432

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Only one way to make an electric organ?

Electric fish have independently evolved electric organs that help them to communicate, navigate, hunt, and defend themselves. Gallant et al. analyzed the genome of the electric eel and the genes expressed in two other distantly related electric fish. The same genes were recruited within the different species to make evolutionarily new structures that function similarly.

Science, this issue p. 1522


Little is known about the genetic basis of convergent traits that originate repeatedly over broad taxonomic scales. The myogenic electric organ has evolved six times in fishes to produce electric fields used in communication, navigation, predation, or defense. We have examined the genomic basis of the convergent anatomical and physiological origins of these organs by assembling the genome of the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) and sequencing electric organ and skeletal muscle transcriptomes from three lineages that have independently evolved electric organs. Our results indicate that, despite millions of years of evolution and large differences in the morphology of electric organ cells, independent lineages have leveraged similar transcription factors and developmental and cellular pathways in the evolution of electric organs.

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