evolutionary genetics

The evolution of antimicrobial peptides in Chiroptera
High viral tolerance coupled with an extraordinary regulation of the immune response makes bats a great model to study host-pathogen evolution. Although many immune-related gene gains and losses have been previously reported in bats, important gene families such as antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) remain understudied. We built an exhaustive bioinformatic pipeline targeting the major gene families of defensins and cathelicidins to explore AMP diversity and analyze their evolution and distribution across six bat families. A combination of manual and automated procedures identified 29 AMP families across queried species, with α-, β-defensins, and cathelicidins representing around 10% of AMP diversity. Gene duplications were inferred in both α-defensins, which were absent in five species, and three β-defensin gene subfamilies, but cathelicidins did not show significant shifts in gene family size and were absent in Anoura caudifer and the pteropodids. Based on lineage-specific gains and losses, we propose diet and diet-related microbiome evolution may determine the evolution of α- and β-defensins gene families and subfamilies. These results highlight the importance of building species-specific libraries for genome annotation in non-model organisms and shed light on possible drivers responsible for the rapid evolution of AMPs. By focusing on these understudied defenses, we provide a robust framework for explaining bat responses to pathogens.
Evolutionary potential of the monkeypox genome arising from interactions with human APOBEC3 enzymes
APOBEC3, an enzyme subfamily that plays a role in virus restriction by generating mutations at particular DNA motifs or mutational ‘hotspots’, can drive viral mutagenesis with host-specific preferential hotspot mutations contributing to pathogen variation. While previous analysis of viral genomes from the 2022 Mpox (formerly Monkeypox) disease outbreak has shown a high frequency of C>T mutations at TC motifs, suggesting recent mutations are human APOBEC3-mediated, how emerging monkeypox virus (MPXV) strains will evolve as a consequence of APOBEC3-mediated mutations remains unknown. By measuring hotspot under-representation, depletion at synonymous sites, and a combination of the two, we analyzed APOBEC3-driven evolution in human poxvirus genomes, finding varying hotspot under-representation patterns. While the native poxvirus molluscum contagiosum exhibits a signature consistent with extensive coevolution with human APOBEC3, including depletion of TC hotspots, variola virus shows an intermediate effect consistent with ongoing evolution at the time of eradication. MPXV, likely the result of recent zoonosis, showed many genes with more TC hotspots than expected by chance (over-representation) and fewer GC hotspots than expected (under-representation). These results suggest the MPXV genome: (1) may have evolved in a host with a particular APOBEC GC hotspot preference, (2) has inverted terminal repeat (ITR) regions—which may be exposed to APOBEC3 for longer during viral replication—and longer genes likely to evolve faster, and therefore (3) has a heightened potential for future human APOBEC3-meditated evolution as the virus spreads in the human population. Our predictions of MPXV mutational potential can both help guide future vaccine development and identification of putative drug targets and add urgency to the task of containing human Mpox disease transmission and uncovering the ecology of the virus in its reservoir host.
Reference-quality bat genomes illuminate adaptations to viral tolerance and disease resistance
Bats carry viruses that can cause severe disease in other mammals. Asymptomatic infections in bats suggest limited tissue-damaging inflammation and immunopathology. To investigate the genomic basis of disease resistance, the Bat1K project generated reference-quality genomes of ten bat species. A systematic analysis showed that signatures of selection in immune genes are more prevalent in bats compared with other mammals. We found an excess of immune gene adaptations in the ancestral Chiroptera and many descending bat lineages, highlighting viral entry and detection factors, and regulators of antiviral and inflammatory responses. ISG15, an antiviral gene contributing to hyperinflammation during COVID-19, exhibits a deletion of a cysteine, required for homodimer formation, in rhinolophid and hipposiderid bats. Cellular infection experiments showed enhanced intracellular protein conjugation of bat ISG15 and lack of secretion into extracellular space, where human ISG15 stimulates inflammation. Our work highlights molecular mechanisms contributing to viral tolerance and disease resistance in bats.
Ecological constraints on highly evolvable olfactory receptor genes and morphology in neotropical bats
While evolvability of genes and traits may promote specialization during species diversification, how ecology subsequently restricts such variation remains unclear. Chemosensation requires animals to decipher a complex chemical background to locate fitness-related resources, and thus the underlying genomic architecture and morphology must cope with constant exposure to a changing odorant landscape; detecting adaptation amidst extensive chemosensory diversity is an open challenge. In phyllostomid bats, an ecologically diverse clade that evolved plant-visiting from an insectivorous ancestor, the evolution of novel food detection mechanisms is suggested to be a key innovation, as plant-visiting species rely strongly on olfaction, supplementarily using echolocation. If this is true, exceptional variation in underlying olfactory genes and phenotypes may have preceded dietary diversification. We compared olfactory receptor (OR) genes sequenced from olfactory epithelium transcriptomes and olfactory epithelium surface area of bats with differing diets. Surprisingly, although OR evolution rates were quite variable and generally high, they are largely independent of diet. Olfactory epithelial surface area, however, is relatively larger in plant-visiting bats and there is an inverse relationship between OR evolution rates and surface area. Relatively larger surface areas suggest greater reliance on olfactory detection and stronger constraint on maintaining an already diverse OR repertoire. Instead of the typical case in which specialization and elaboration are coupled with rapid diversification of associated genes, here the relevant genes are already evolving so quickly that increased reliance on smell has led to stabilizing selection, presumably to maintain the ability to consistently discriminate among specific odorants — a potential ecological constraint on sensory evolution.
Fruit odorants mediate co-specialization in a multispecies plant–animal mutualism
Despite the widespread notion that animal-mediated seed dispersal led to the evolution of fruit traits that attract mutualistic frugivores, the dispersal syndrome hypothesis remains controversial, particularly for complex traits such as fruit scent. Here, we test this hypothesis in a community of mutualistic, ecologically important neotropical bats (Carollia spp.) and plants (Piper spp.) that communicate primarily via chemical signals. We found greater bat consumption is significantly associated with scent chemical diversity and presence of specific compounds, which fit multi-peak selective regime models in Piper. Through behavioural assays, we found Carollia prefer certain compounds, particularly 2-heptanol, which evolved as a unique feature of two Piper species highly consumed by these bats. Thus, we demonstrate that volatile compounds emitted by neotropical Piper fruits evolved in tandem with seed dispersal by scent-oriented Carollia bats. Specifically, fruit scent chemistry in some Piper species fits adaptive evolutionary scenarios consistent with a dispersal syndrome hypothesis. While other abiotic and biotic processes likely shaped the chemical composition of ripe fruit scent in Piper, our results provide some of the first evidence of the effect of bat frugivory on plant chemical diversity.
Diversity in olfactory receptor repertoires is associated with dietary specialization in a genus of frugivorous bat
Mammalian olfactory receptors (ORs) are a diverse family of genes encoding proteins that directly interact with environmental chemical cues. ORs evolve via gene duplication in a birth-death fashion, neofunctionalizing and pseudogenizing over time. Olfaction is a primary sense used for food detection in plant-visiting bats, but the relationship between dietary specialization and OR repertoire diversity is unclear. Within neotropical Leaf-nosed bats (Phyllostomidae), many lineages are plant specialists, and some have a distinct OR repertoire compared to insectivorous species. Yet, whether specialization on particular plant genera is associated with the evolution of specialized OR repertoires with narrower diversity has never been tested. Using targeted sequence capture, we sequenced the OR repertoires of three sympatric species of short-tailed fruit bats (Carollia), which vary in their degree of specialization on the fruits of Piper plants. We characterized orthologous versus duplicated receptors among Carollia species, and explored the diversity and redundancy of the receptor gene repertoire. At the species level, the most dedicated Piper specialist, Carollia castanea, had lower OR diversity compared to the two generalists (C. sowelli, C. perspicillata), but we discovered a few unique sets of ORs within C. castanea with high redundancy of similar gene duplicates. These unique receptors potentially enable C. castanea to detect Piper fruit odorants better than its two congeners. Carollia perspicillata, the species with the most generalist diet, had a higher diversity of intact receptors, suggesting the ability to detect a wider range of odorant molecules. Variation among ORs may be a factor in the coexistence of these sympatric species, facilitating the exploitation of different plant resources. Our study sheds light on how gene duplication and changes in OR diversity may play a role in dietary adaptations and underlies patterns of ecological interactions between bats and plants.