Evolution of Xmrk: an oncogene, but also a speciation gene?

Bioessays. 2008 Sep;30(9):822-32. doi: 10.1002/bies.20807.


Genes that exert their function when they are introduced into a foreign genetic background pose many questions to our current understanding of the forces and mechanisms that promote either the maintenance or divergence of gene functions over evolutionary time. The melanoma inducing Xmrk oncogene of the Southern platyfish (Xiphophorus maculatus) is a stable constituent of the genome of this species. It displays its tumorigenic function, however, almost exclusively only after inter-populational or, even more severely, interspecific hybridization events. The Xiphophorus hybrid melanoma system has gained attention in biomedical research as a genetic model for studying tumor formation. From an evolutionary perspective, a prominent question is: how could this gene persist over millions of years? An attractive hypothesis is that Xmrk, acting as a detrimental gene in a hybrid genome, could be a speciation gene that shields the gene pool of its species from mixing with other closely related sympatric species. In this article, I briefly review our current knowledge of the molecular genetics and biochemical functions of the Xmrk gene and discuss aspects of its evolutionary history and presence with respect to this idea. While Xmrk as a potentially injurious oncogene has clearly survived for millions of years, its role as a speciation gene has to be questioned.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Fish Proteins / classification
  • Fish Proteins / genetics*
  • Fish Proteins / metabolism
  • Fishes / anatomy & histology
  • Fishes / physiology
  • Genetic Speciation*
  • Humans
  • Melanophores / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Oncogenes*
  • Phylogeny
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / classification
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / genetics*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Fish Proteins
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Xmrk protein, Xiphophorus