Evolution of sex-biased expression in Caenorhabditis
Thomas, Cristel Gwenola
Haag, Eric S
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Mating systems have a profound impact on genome structure evolution, both indirectly through their effects on population genetics and directly due to the genetic control of reproductive traits. Most extant Caenorhabditis species are gonochoristic (males and females), while the most studied species, C. elegans and C. briggsae, are androdioecious (self-fertile hermaphrodites and males). The latter two species display an overall reduced ability to mate, suggesting that the selective pressure on maintaining efficient mating was weakened as selfing arose. The genes underlying these traits were likely to have been expressed in a sex-biased fashion in the gonochoristic ancestor, and we hypothesized that as selfing emerged their regulation was modified or they were lost altogether. This hypothesis is especially interesting given that selfing species have consistently smaller genome sizes than their gonochoristic relatives. I sought to address whether a disproportionate loss of genes with sex-biased expression accompanies the loss of mating-related traits in Caenorhabditis hermaphrodites. I first examine sex-biased expression in a gonochoristic species, C. remanei, and identify genes with highly sex-biased expression. I find that these genes are more likely to be missing in selfing species than expected by chance. I then select some of these genes based on their phylogenetic conservation patterns in the genus, and characterize them more thoroughly to shed some light on their functions. Through this study I identify a novel male-associated candidate cis-regulatory element. Lastly, I broaden the scope of the study by determining transcriptome wide sex-biased expression patterns in four Caenorhabditis species. I confirm that C.elegans displays a decrease in the proportion of strong female-biased expression, as well as a modification of the expression of genes with male-biased expression both in males and in hermaphrodites, when compared to gonochoristic Caenorhabditis. Taken together, this study illustrates the transcriptomic consequences of a modification of the mating system, and begins to address its effect on genome structure.