As one of the few known species in an active phase of intron proliferation, the microcrustacean Daphnia pulex is an especially attractive system for interrogating the gain and loss of introns in natural populations. In this study, we used a comparative population-genomic approach to identify and characterize 90 recently gained introns in this species. Molecular clock analyses indicate that these introns arose between 3.9 × 10(5) and 1.45 × 10(4) years ago, with a spike in intron proliferation approximately 5.2 × 10(4) to 1.22 × 10(5) years ago. Parallel gains at homologous positions contribute to 47.8% (43/90) of discovered new introns. A disproportionally large number of new introns were found in historically isolated populations in Oregon. Nonetheless, derived, intron-bearing alleles were also identified in a wide range of geographic locations, suggesting intron gain and, to a lesser degree, intron loss are important sources of genetic variation in natural populations of Daphnia. A majority (55/90 or 61.1%) of the identified neointrons have associated internal direct repeats with lengths and compositions that are unlikely to occur by chance, suggesting repeated bouts of staggered double-strand breaks (DSBs) during their evolution. Accordingly, internal, staggered DSBs may contribute to a passive trend toward increased length and sequence diversity in nascent introns.
Keywords: Daphnia; age estimate; double-strand breaks; new intron.
© The Author(s) 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.