Background: Recent genomic studies have revealed a teleost-specific third-round whole genome duplication (3R-WGD) event occurred in a common ancestor of teleost fishes. However, it is unclear how the genes duplicated in this event were lost or persisted during the diversification of teleosts, and therefore, how many of the duplicated genes contribute to the genetic differences among teleosts. This subject is also important for understanding the process of vertebrate evolution through WGD events. We applied a comparative evolutionary approach to this question by focusing on the genes involved in long-term potentiation, taste and olfactory transduction, and the tricarboxylic acid cycle, based on the whole genome sequences of four teleosts; zebrafish, medaka, stickleback, and green spotted puffer fish.
Results: We applied a state-of-the-art method of maximum-likelihood phylogenetic inference and conserved synteny analyses to each of 130 genes involved in the above biological systems of human. These analyses identified 116 orthologous gene groups between teleosts and tetrapods, and 45 pairs of 3R-WGD-derived duplicate genes among them. This suggests that more than half [(45x2)/(116+45)] = 56.5%) of the loci, probably more than ten thousand genes, present in a common ancestor of the four teleosts were still duplicated after the 3R-WGD. The estimated temporal pattern of gene loss suggested that, after the 3R-WGD, many (71/116) of the duplicated genes were rapidly lost during the initial 75 million years (MY), whereas on average more than half (27.3/45) of the duplicated genes remaining in the ancestor of the four teleosts (45/116) have persisted for about 275 MY. The 3R-WGD-derived duplicates that have persisted for a long evolutionary periods of time had significantly larger number of interacting partners and longer length of protein coding sequence, implying that they tend to be more multifunctional than the singletons after the 3R-WGD.
Conclusion: We have shown firstly the temporal pattern of gene loss process after 3R-WGD on the basis of teleost phylogeny and divergence time frameworks. The 3R-WGD-derived duplicates have not undergone constant exponential decay, suggesting that selection favoured the long-term persistence of a subset of duplicates that tend to be multi-functional. On the basis of these results obtained from the analysis of 116 orthologous gene groups, we propose that more than ten thousand of 3R-WGD-derived duplicates have experienced lineage-specific evolution, that is, the differential sub-/neo-functionalization or secondary loss between lineages, and contributed to teleost diversity.