Parallel evolution of cox genes in H2S-tolerant fish as key adaptation to a toxic environment

Markus Pfenninger, Hannes Lerp, Michael Tobler, Courtney Passow, Joanna L. Kelley, Elisabeth Funke, Bastian Greshake, Umut Kaan Erkoc, Thomas Berberich, Martin Plath

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Populations that repeatedly adapt to the same environmental stressor offer a unique opportunity to study adaptation, especially if there are a priori predictions about the genetic basis underlying phenotypic evolution. Hydrogen sulphide (H2S) blocks the cytochrome-c oxidase complex (COX), predicting the evolution of decreased H2S susceptibility of the COX in three populations in the Poecilia mexicana complex that have colonized H 2S-containing springs. Here, we demonstrate that decreased H 2S susceptibility of COX evolved in parallel in two sulphide lineages, as evidenced by shared amino acid substitutions in cox1 and cox3 genes. One of the shared substitutions likely triggers conformational changes in COX1 blocking the access of H2S. In a third sulphide population, we detect no decreased H2S susceptibility of COX, suggesting that H 2S resistance is achieved through another mechanism. Our study thus demonstrates that even closely related lineages follow both parallel and disparate molecular evolutionary paths to adaptation in response to the same selection pressure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3873
JournalNature communications
StatePublished - May 12 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Simit Patel and Miki Bálint for commenting on the manuscript. This work was supported by the research funding programme ‘LOEWE—Landes-Offensive zur Entwicklung Wissenschaftlich-ökonomischer Exzellenz’ of Hesse’s Ministry of Higher Education, Research, and the Arts as well as the National Science Foundation (IOS-1121832).


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