An excess of gene expression divergence on the X chromosome in Drosophila embryos: implications for the faster-X hypothesis

An excess of gene expression divergence on the X chromosome in Drosophila embryos: implications for the faster-X hypothesis

Melek A. Kayserili, Dave T. Gerrard, Pavel Tomancak, Alex T. Kalinka
(Submitted on 5 Sep 2012)

The X chromosome is present as a single copy in the heterogametic sex, and this hemizygosity is expected to drive unusual patterns of evolution on the X relative to the autosomes. For example, the hemizgosity of the X may lead to a lower chromosomal effective population size compared to the autosomes suggesting that the X might be more strongly affected by genetic drift. However, the X may also experience stronger positive selection than the autosomes because recessive beneficial mutations will be more visible to selection on the X where they will spend less time being masked by the dominant, less beneficial allele – a proposal known as the faster-X hypothesis. Thus, empirical studies demonstrating increased genetic divergence on the X chromosome could be indicative of either adaptive or non-adaptive evolution. We measured gene expression in Drosophila species and in D. melanogaster inbred strains for both embryos and adults. In the embryos we found that expression divergence is on average more than 20% higher for genes on the X chromosome relative to the autosomes, but in contrast, in the inbred strains gene expression variation is significantly lower on the X chromosome. Furthermore, expression divergence of genes on Muller’s D element is significantly greater along the branch leading to the obscura sub-group, in which this element segregates as a neo-X chromosome. In the adults, divergence is greatest on the X chromosome for males, but not for females, yet in both sexes inbred strains harbour the lowest level of gene expression variation on the X chromosome. We consider different explanations for our results and conclude that they are most consistent within the framework of the faster-X hypothesis.

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