A candidate multimodal functional genetic network for thermal adaptation

PeerJ. 2014 Sep 30:2:e578. doi: 10.7717/peerj.578. eCollection 2014.


Vertebrate ectotherms such as reptiles provide ideal organisms for the study of adaptation to environmental thermal change. Comparative genomic and exomic studies can recover markers that diverge between warm and cold adapted lineages, but the genes that are functionally related to thermal adaptation may be difficult to identify. We here used a bioinformatics genome-mining approach to predict and identify functions for suitable candidate markers for thermal adaptation in the chicken. We first established a framework of candidate functions for such markers, and then compiled the literature on genes known to adapt to the thermal environment in different lineages of vertebrates. We then identified them in the genomes of human, chicken, and the lizard Anolis carolinensis, and established a functional genetic interaction network in the chicken. Surprisingly, markers initially identified from diverse lineages of vertebrates such as human and fish were all in close functional relationship with each other and more associated than expected by chance. This indicates that the general genetic functional network for thermoregulation and/or thermal adaptation to the environment might be regulated via similar evolutionarily conserved pathways in different vertebrate lineages. We were able to identify seven functions that were statistically overrepresented in this network, corresponding to four of our originally predicted functions plus three unpredicted functions. We describe this network as multimodal: central regulator genes with the function of relaying thermal signal (1), affect genes with different cellular functions, namely (2) lipoprotein metabolism, (3) membrane channels, (4) stress response, (5) response to oxidative stress, (6) muscle contraction and relaxation, and (7) vasodilation, vasoconstriction and regulation of blood pressure. This network constitutes a novel resource for the study of thermal adaptation in the closely related nonavian reptiles and other vertebrate ectotherms.

Keywords: Adaptation; Anolis; Ectotherms; Functional network; Genome mining; Reptiles; Thermal adaptation; Thermoregulation.