Cytonuclear interactions and relaxed selection accelerate sequence evolution in organelle ribosomes

Mol Biol Evol. 2014 Mar;31(3):673-82. doi: 10.1093/molbev/mst259. Epub 2013 Dec 13.


Many mitochondrial and plastid protein complexes contain subunits that are encoded in different genomes. In animals, nuclear-encoded mitochondrial proteins often exhibit rapid sequence evolution, which has been hypothesized to result from selection for mutations that compensate for changes in interacting subunits encoded in mutation-prone animal mitochondrial DNA. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed nuclear genes encoding cytosolic and organelle ribosomal proteins in flowering plants. The model angiosperm genus Arabidopsis exhibits low organelle mutation rates, typical of most plants. Nevertheless, we found that (nuclear-encoded) subunits of organelle ribosomes in Arabidopsis have higher amino acid sequence polymorphism and divergence than their counterparts in cytosolic ribosomes, suggesting that organelle ribosomes experience relaxed functional constraint. However, the observed difference between organelle and cytosolic ribosomes was smaller than in animals and could be partially attributed to rapid evolution in N-terminal organelle-targeting peptides that are not involved in ribosome function. To test the role of organelle mutation more directly, we used transcriptomic data from an angiosperm genus (Silene) with highly variable rates of organelle genome evolution. We found that Silene species with unusually fast-evolving mitochondrial and plastid DNA exhibited increased amino acid sequence divergence in ribosomal proteins targeted to the organelles but not in those that function in cytosolic ribosomes. Overall, these findings support the hypothesis that rapid organelle genome evolution has selected for compensatory mutations in nuclear-encoded proteins. We conclude that coevolution between interacting subunits encoded in different genomic compartments within the eukaryotic cell is an important determinant of variation in rates of protein sequence evolution.

Keywords: Arabidopsis; Silene; compensatory evolution; mutation rate; positive selection; ribosomal proteins.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics*
  • Cytosol / metabolism*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Plant / genetics
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mutation Rate
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • RNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Ribosomal Proteins / genetics
  • Ribosome Subunits, Large / genetics
  • Ribosomes / genetics*
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Silene / genetics
  • Species Specificity


  • RNA, Ribosomal
  • Ribosomal Proteins