Parallel Genomic Changes Drive Repeated Evolution of Placentas in Live-Bearing Fish

Kruistum, Henri van; Nijland, Reindert; Reznick, David N.; Groenen, Martien A.M.; Megens, Hendrik Jan; Pollux, Bart J.A.


The evolutionary origin of complex organs challenges empirical study because most organs evolved hundreds of millions of years ago. The placenta of live-bearing fish in the family Poeciliidae represents a unique opportunity to study the evolutionary origin of complex organs, because in this family a placenta evolved at least nine times independently. It is currently unknown whether this repeated evolution is accompanied by similar, repeated, genomic changes in placental species. Here, we compare whole genomes of 26 poeciliid species representing six out of nine independent origins of placentation. Evolutionary rate analysis revealed that the evolution of the placenta coincides with convergent shifts in the evolutionary rate of 78 protein-coding genes, mainly observed in transporter- and vesicle-located genes. Furthermore, differences in sequence conservation showed that placental evolution coincided with similar changes in 76 noncoding regulatory elements, occurring primarily around genes that regulate development. The unexpected high occurrence of GATA simple repeats in the regulatory elements suggests an important function for GATA repeats in developmental gene regulation. The distinction in molecular evolution observed, with protein-coding parallel changes more often found in metabolic and structural pathways, compared with regulatory change more frequently found in developmental pathways, offers a compelling model for complex trait evolution in general: changing the regulation of otherwise highly conserved developmental genes may allow for the evolution of complex traits.