Mechanisms of gene expression evolution in polyploids
Polyploidy, or whole genome duplication (WGD), is a fundamental evolutionary mechanism for diverse organisms including many plants and some animals. Duplicate genes from WGD are a major source of expression and functional diversity. However, the biological and evolutionary mechanisms for gene expression changes within and between species following WGD are poorly understood. Using genome-wide gene expression microarrays and high-throughput sequencing technology, I studied the genetic and evolutionary mechanisms for gene expression changes in synthetic and natural allopolyploids that are derived from hybridization between closely related species. To investigate evolutionary fate of duplicate genes, I tested how duplicate genes respond to developmental and environmental changes within species and how ancient duplicate genes contribute to gene expression diversity in resynthesized allopolyploids. We found that expression divergence between gene duplicates was significantly higher in response to environmental stress than to developmental process. Furthermore, duplicate genes related to external stresses showed higher expression divergence between two closely related species and in resynthesized and natural allotetraploids than single-copy genes. A slow rate of expression divergence of duplicate genes during development may offer dosage-dependent selective advantage, whereas a high rate of expression divergence between gene duplicates in response to external changes may enhance adaptation. To investigate molecular mechanisms of expression diversity among allopolyploids, I analyzed high-throughput sequencing data of small RNAs in allopolyploids and their progenitors. Small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) induce epigenetic modification and gene silencing of repeats, while microRNAs (miRNAs) and trans-acting siRNAs (ta-siRNAs) induce expression modulation of protein coding genes. Our data showed that siRNA populations in progenitors were highly maintained in allopolyploids, and alteration of miRNA abundance in allopolyploids was significantly correlated with expression changes of miRNA target genes. These results suggest that stable inheritance of parental siRNAs in allopolyploids helps maintain genome stability in response to genome duplication, whereas expression diversity of miRNAs leads to interspecies variation in gene expression, growth, and development. Results from these research objectives show that genome-wide analysis of high throughput gene expression and small RNAs provides new insights into molecular and evolutionary mechanisms for gene expression diversity and phenotypic variation between closely related species and in the new allopolyploids.