Plasticity first: molecular signatures of a complex morphological trait in filamentous cyanobacteria.

Koch, Robin, Kupczok, Anneke, Stucken, Karina, Ilhan, Judith, Hammerschmidt, Katrin and Dagan, Tal (2017) Plasticity first: molecular signatures of a complex morphological trait in filamentous cyanobacteria. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 17 (1). DOI 10.1186/s12862-017-1053-5.

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Filamentous cyanobacteria that differentiate multiple cell types are considered the peak of prokaryotic complexity and their evolution has been studied in the context of multicellularity origins. Species that form true-branching filaments exemplify the most complex cyanobacteria. However, the mechanisms underlying the true-branching morphology remain poorly understood despite of several investigations that focused on the identification of novel genes or pathways. An alternative route for the evolution of novel traits is based on existing phenotypic plasticity. According to that scenario - termed genetic assimilation - the fixation of a novel phenotype precedes the fixation of the genotype.

Here we show that the evolution of transcriptional regulatory elements constitutes a major mechanism for the evolution of new traits. We found that supplementation with sucrose reconstitutes the ancestral branchless phenotype of two true-branching Fischerella species and compared the transcription start sites (TSSs) between the two phenotypic states. Our analysis uncovers several orthologous TSSs whose transcription level is correlated with the true-branching phenotype. These TSSs are found in genes that encode components of the septosome and elongasome (e.g., fraC and mreB).

The concept of genetic assimilation supplies a tenable explanation for the evolution of novel traits but testing its feasibility is hindered by the inability to recreate and study the evolution of present-day traits. We present a novel approach to examine transcription data for the plasticity first route and provide evidence for its occurrence during the evolution of complex colony morphology in true-branching cyanobacteria. Our results reveal a route for evolution of the true-branching phenotype in cyanobacteria via modification of the transcription level of pre-existing genes. Our study supplies evidence for the 'plasticity-first' hypothesis and highlights the importance of transcriptional regulation in the evolution of novel traits.

Document Type: Article
Keywords: Comparative transcriptomics; Cyanobacterial evolution; Genetic assimilation; True-branching
Research affiliation: OceanRep > The Future Ocean - Cluster of Excellence > FO-R08
Kiel University > Kiel Marine Science
OceanRep > The Future Ocean - Cluster of Excellence
Kiel University
Refereed: Yes
Open Access Journal?: Yes
DOI etc.: 10.1186/s12862-017-1053-5
ISSN: 1471-2148
Projects: Future Ocean
Date Deposited: 14 Dec 2017 14:05
Last Modified: 06 Feb 2020 09:10

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