Population Genomics Reveals Speciation and Introgression between Brown Norway Rats and Their Sibling Species

Mol Biol Evol. 2017 Sep 1;34(9):2214-2228. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msx157.


Murine rodents are excellent models for study of adaptive radiations and speciation. Brown Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) are successful global colonizers and the contributions of their domesticated laboratory strains to biomedical research are well established. To identify nucleotide-based speciation timing of the rat and genomic information contributing to its colonization capabilities, we analyzed 51 whole-genome sequences of wild-derived Brown Norway rats and their sibling species, R. nitidus, and identified over 20 million genetic variants in the wild Brown Norway rats that were absent in the laboratory strains, which substantially expand the reservoir of rat genetic diversity. We showed that divergence of the rat and its siblings coincided with drastic climatic changes that occurred during the Middle Pleistocene. Further, we revealed that there was a geographically widespread influx of genes between Brown Norway rats and the sibling species following the divergence, resulting in numerous introgressed regions in the genomes of admixed Brown Norway rats. Intriguing, genes related to chemical communications among these introgressed regions appeared to contribute to the population-specific adaptations of the admixed Brown Norway rats. Our data reveals evolutionary history of the Brown Norway rat, and offers new insights into the role of climatic changes in speciation of animals and the effect of interspecies introgression on animal adaptation.

Keywords: Rattus norvegicus; chemical communications; climatic changes; interspecies introgression; population genomics; speciation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Speciation
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genome
  • Genomics / methods
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods
  • Metagenomics / methods*
  • Phylogeny
  • Phylogeography / methods
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Rats / genetics*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA