Signatures of Selection on Mitonuclear Integrated Genes Uncover Hidden Mitogenomic Variation in Fur Seals

Genome Biol Evol. 2022 Jul 2;14(7):evac104. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evac104.


Nuclear copies of mitochondrial genes (numts) are commonplace in vertebrate genomes and have been characterized in many species. However, relatively little attention has been paid to understanding their evolutionary origins and to disentangling alternative sources of insertions. Numts containing genes with intact mitochondrial reading frames represent good candidates for this purpose. The sequences of the genes they contain can be compared with their mitochondrial homologs to characterize synonymous to nonsynonymous substitution rates, which can shed light on the selection pressures these genes have been subjected to. Here, we characterize 25 numts in the Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) genome. Among those containing genes with intact mitochondrial reading frames, three carry multiple substitutions in comparison to their mitochondrial homologs. Our analyses reveal that one represents a historic insertion subjected to strong purifying selection since it colonized the Otarioidea in a genomic region enriched in retrotransposons. By contrast, the other two numts appear to be more recent and their large number of substitutions can be attributed to noncanonical insertions, either the integration of heteroplasmic mtDNA or hybridization. Our study sheds new light on the evolutionary history of pinniped numts and uncovers the presence of hidden sources of mitonuclear variation.

Keywords: Arctocephalus gazella; Antarctic fur seal; genome evolution; mitochondrial DNA; nuclear DNA sequences of mitochondrial origin (numts); pinniped.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Fur Seals* / genetics
  • Genes, Mitochondrial
  • Genomics


  • DNA, Mitochondrial