Epigenetic modifications are key regulators of gene expression and underpin genome integrity. Yet, how epigenetic changes affect the evolution and transcriptional robustness of genes remains largely unknown. Here, we show how the repressive histone mark H3K27me3 underpins the trajectory of highly conserved genes in fungi. We first performed transcriptomic profiling on closely related species of the plant pathogen Fusarium graminearum species complex. We determined transcriptional responsiveness of genes across environmental conditions to determine expression robustness. To infer evolutionary conservation, we used a framework of 23 species across the Fusarium genus including three species covered with histone methylation data. Gene expression variation is negatively correlated with gene conservation confirming that highly conserved genes show higher expression robustness. In contrast, genes marked by H3K27me3 do not show such associations. Furthermore, highly conserved genes marked by H3K27me3 encode smaller proteins, exhibit weaker codon usage bias, higher levels of hydrophobicity, show lower intrinsically disordered regions, and are enriched for functions related to regulation and membrane transport. The evolutionary age of conserved genes with H3K27me3 histone marks falls typically within the origins of the Fusarium genus. We show that highly conserved genes marked by H3K27me3 are more likely to be dispensable for survival during host infection. Lastly, we show that conserved genes exposed to repressive H3K27me3 marks across distantly related Fusarium fungi are associated with transcriptional perturbation at the microevolutionary scale. In conclusion, we show how repressive histone marks are entangled in the evolutionary fate of highly conserved genes across evolutionary timescales.
Keywords: Fusarium; comparative genomics; expression robustness; fungi; gene conservation; histone methylation.
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.