Neurogenomics and the role of a large mutational target on rapid behavioral change
|© 2016 The Author(s). Background: Behavior, while complex and dynamic, is among the most diverse, derived, and rapidly evolving traits in animals. The highly labile nature of heritable behavioral change is observed in such evolutionary phenomena as the emergence of converged behaviors in domesticated animals, the rapid evolution of preferences, and the routine development of ethological isolation between diverging populations and species. In fact, it is believed that nervous system development and its potential to evolve a seemingly infinite array of behavioral innovations played a major role in the successful diversification of metazoans, including our own human lineage. However, unlike other rapidly evolving functional systems such as sperm-egg interactions and immune defense, the genetic basis of rapid behavioral change remains elusive. Presentation of the hypothesis: Here we propose that the rapid divergence and widespread novelty of innate and adaptive behavior is primarily a function of its genomic architecture. Specifically, we hypothesize that the broad diversity of behavioral phenotypes present at micro- and macroevolutionary scales is promoted by a disproportionately large mutational target of neurogenic genes. We present evidence that these large neuro-behavioral targets are significant and ubiquitous in animal genomes and suggest that behavior's novelty and rapid emergence are driven by a number of factors including more selection on a larger pool of variants, a greater role of phenotypic plasticity, and/or unique molecular features present in large genes. We briefly discuss the origins of these large neurogenic genes, as they relate to the remarkable diversity of metazoan behaviors, and highlight key consequences on both behavioral traits and neurogenic disease across, respectively, evolutionary and ontogenetic time scales. Testing the hypothesis: Current approaches to studying the genetic mechanisms underlying rapid phenotypic change primarily focus on identifying signatures of Darwinian selection in protein-coding regions. In contrast, the large mutational target hypothesis places genomic architecture and a larger allelic pool at the forefront of rapid evolutionary change, particularly in genetic systems that are polygenic and regulatory in nature. Genomic data from brain and neural tissues in mammals as well as a preliminary survey of neurogenic genes from comparative genomic data support this hypothesis while rejecting both positive and relaxed selection on proteins or higher mutation rates. In mammals and invertebrates, neurogenic genes harbor larger protein-coding regions and possess a richer regulatory repertoire of miRNA targets and transcription factor binding sites. Overall, neurogenic genes cover a disproportionately large genomic fraction, providing a sizeable substrate for evolutionary, genetic, and molecular mechanisms to act upon. Readily available comparative and functional genomic data provide unexplored opportunities to test whether a distinct neurogenomic architecture can promote rapid behavioral change via several mechanisms unique to large genes, and which components of this large footprint are uniquely metazoan. Implications of the hypothesis: The large mutational target hypothesis highlights the eminent roles of mutation and functional genomic architecture in generating rapid developmental and evolutionary change. It has broad implications on our understanding of the genetics of complex adaptive traits such as behavior by focusing on the importance of mutational input, from SNPs to alternative transcripts to transposable elements, on driving evolutionary rates of functional systems. Such functional divergence has important implications in promoting behavioral isolation across short- and long-term timescales. Due to genome-scaled polygenic adaptation, the large target effect also contributes to our inability to identify adapted behavioral candidate genes. The presence of large neurogenic genes, particularly in the mammalian brain and other neural tissues, further offers emerging insight into the etiology of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases. The well-known correlation between neurological spectrum disorders in children and paternal age may simply be a direct result of aging fathers accumulating mutations across these large neurodevelopmental genes. The large mutational target hypothesis can also explain the rapid evolution of other functional systems covering a large genomic fraction such as male fertility and its preferential association with hybrid male sterility among closely related taxa. Overall, a focus on mutational potential may increase our power in understanding the genetic basis of complex phenotypes such as behavior while filling a general gap in understanding their evolution.
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|Neurogenomics and the role of a large mutational target on rapid behavioral change
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