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Eleven ancestral gene families lost in mammals and vertebrates while otherwise universally conserved in animals

BMC Evolutionary Biology
Springer (Biomed Central Ltd.)
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1186/1471-2148-6-5
  • Research Article
  • Biology


Background Gene losses played a role which may have been as important as gene and genome duplications and rearrangements, in modelling today species' genomes from a common ancestral set of genes. The set and diversity of protein-coding genes in a species has direct output at the functional level. While gene losses have been reported in all the major lineages of the metazoan tree of life, none have proposed a focus on specific losses in the vertebrates and mammals lineages. In contrast, genes lost in protostomes (i.e. arthropods and nematodes) but still present in vertebrates have been reported and extensively detailed. This probable over-anthropocentric way of comparing genomes does not consider as an important phenomena, gene losses in species that are usually described as "higher". However reporting universally conserved genes throughout evolution that have recently been lost in vertebrates and mammals could reveal interesting features about the evolution of our genome, particularly if these losses can be related to losses of capability. Results We report 11 gene families conserved throughout eukaryotes from yeasts (such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae) to bilaterian animals (such as Drosophila melanogaster or Caenorhabditis elegans). This evolutionarily wide conservation suggests they were present in the last common ancestors of fungi and metazoan animals. None of these 11 gene families are found in human nor mouse genomes, and their absence generally extends to all vertebrates. A total of 8 out of these 11 gene families have orthologs in plants, suggesting they were present in the Last Eukaryotic Common Ancestor (LECA). We investigated known functional information for these 11 gene families. This allowed us to correlate some of the lost gene families to loss of capabilities. Conclusion Mammalian and vertebrate genomes lost evolutionary conserved ancestral genes that are probably otherwise not dispensable in eukaryotes. Hence, the human genome, which is generally viewed as being the result of increased complexity and gene-content, has also evolved through simplification and gene losses. This acknowledgement confirms, as already suggested, that the genome of our far ancestor was probably more complex than ever considered.

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