A fundamental question in evolutionary genetics concerns the extent to which adaptive phenotypic convergence is attributable to convergent or parallel changes at the molecular sequence level. Here we report a comparative analysis of hemoglobin (Hb) function in eight phylogenetically replicated pairs of high- and low-altitude waterfowl taxa to test for convergence in the oxygenation properties of Hb, and to assess the extent to which convergence in biochemical phenotype is attributable to repeated amino acid replacements. Functional experiments on native Hb variants and protein engineering experiments based on site-directed mutagenesis revealed the phenotypic effects of specific amino acid replacements that were responsible for convergent increases in Hb-O2 affinity in multiple high-altitude taxa. In six of the eight taxon pairs, high-altitude taxa evolved derived increases in Hb-O2 affinity that were caused by a combination of unique replacements, parallel replacements (involving identical-by-state variants with independent mutational origins in different lineages), and collateral replacements (involving shared, identical-by-descent variants derived via introgressive hybridization). In genome scans of nucleotide differentiation involving high- and low-altitude populations of three separate species, function-altering amino acid polymorphisms in the globin genes emerged as highly significant outliers, providing independent evidence for adaptive divergence in Hb function. The experimental results demonstrate that convergent changes in protein function can occur through multiple historical paths, and can involve multiple possible mutations. Most cases of convergence in Hb function did not involve parallel substitutions and most parallel substitutions did not affect Hb-O2 affinity, indicating that the repeatability of phenotypic evolution does not require parallelism at the molecular level.
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© 2015 Natarajan et al.