Spatial transcriptomics of nematodes identifies sperm cells as a source of genomic novelty and rapid evolution

Christian Rödelsperger, Annabel Ebbing, Devansh Raj Sharma, Misako Okumura, Ralf J Sommer, Hendrik C Korswagen

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Divergence of gene function and expression during development can give rise to phenotypic differences at the level of cells, tissues, organs, and ultimately whole organisms. To gain insights into the evolution of gene expression and novel genes at spatial resolution, we compared the spatially-resolved transcriptomes of two distantly related nematodes, Caenorhabditis elegans and Pristionchus pacificus, that diverged 60-90 million years ago. The spatial transcriptomes of adult worms show little evidence for strong conservation at the level of single genes. Instead, regional expression is largely driven by recent duplication and emergence of novel genes. Estimation of gene ages across anatomical structures revealed an enrichment of novel genes in sperm-related regions. This provides first evidence in nematodes for the" out of testis" hypothesis that has been previously postulated based on studies in Drosophila and mammals. "Out of testis" genes represent a mix of products of pervasive transcription as well as fast evolving members of ancient gene families. Strikingly, numerous novel genes have known functions during meiosis in C. elegans indicating that even universal processes such as meiosis may be targets of rapid evolution. Our study highlights the importance of novel genes in generating phenotypic diversity and explicitly characterizes gene origination in sperm-related regions. Furthermore, it proposes new functions for previously uncharacterized genes and establishes the spatial transcriptome of P. pacificus as a catalog for future studies on the evolution of gene expression and function.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Aug 2020

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