EVOLUTION OF OXIDATIVE METABOLISM IN FISHES
Little, Alexander George
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My study investigated the evolution of oxidative metabolism in fishes. While intense selection for, or against, non-synonymous point mutations in coding sequence drives the evolution of mitochondrial OXPHOS genes, genome-specific mechanisms such as gene duplication events can play major roles in the evolution of nuclear OXPHOS genes. My thesis focused on the mitochondrial enzyme cytochrome c oxidase (COX), principally in fish because of their evolutionary origins and functional diversity in terms of energy metabolism. In the first part of my thesis, I examined a highly aerobic group of fishes (billfishes and tunas) to study the evolution of mitochondrial COX genes. Though the study began as a structure-function analysis of COX, my approach changed when my preliminary results called into question the accepted phylogenetic relationships of my species of interest. We generated a robust multigene phylogeny of this group to interpret data in a phylogenetically informative context. Phylogenetic analyses in this group provided us with a framework to study the evolution of mitochondrial OXPHOS genes, but unexpectedly revealed that: 1) billfishes are only distantly related to tunas, and share greater evolutionary affinities with flatfishes (Pleuronectiformes) and jacks (Carangidae), and 2) regional endothermy has evolved in a non-scombroid suborder in teleosts. These results collectively imply that regional endothermy has evolved independently at least twice within teleost fish. The second part of my thesis explored the evolution of the nuclear COX subunits, focusing on their origins in fish. Isoform transcription profiles coupled with phylogenetic analyses for each subunit show that vertebrate isoforms arose from a combination of early whole-genome duplications in basal vertebrates or specific lineages (e.g. teleosts), and more recent single gene duplication events. While there is evidence for retained function of some COX orthologues across fishes and mammals, others appear to have diverged in function since their earlier radiation, possibly contributing novel evolutionary functions. Together these two studies provide insight into the evolutionary forces facilitating adaptive change in mitochondrial and nuclear OXPHOS genes.