BACKGROUND: Whole genome duplication (WGD) events have played a major role in eukaryotic genome evolution, but the consequence of these extreme events in adaptive genome evolution is still not well understood. To address this knowledge gap, we used a comparative phylogenetic model and transcriptomic data from seven species to infer selection on gene expression in duplicated genes (ohnologs) following the salmonid WGD 80-100 million years ago.
RESULTS: We find rare cases of tissue-specific expression evolution but pervasive expression evolution affecting many tissues, reflecting strong selection on maintenance of genome stability following genome doubling. Ohnolog expression levels have evolved mostly asymmetrically, by diverting one ohnolog copy down a path towards lower expression and possible pseudogenization. Loss of expression in one ohnolog is significantly associated with transposable element insertions in promoters and likely driven by selection on gene dosage including selection on stoichiometric balance. We also find symmetric expression shifts, and these are associated with genes under strong evolutionary constraints such as ribosome subunit genes. This possibly reflects selection operating to achieve a gene dose reduction while avoiding accumulation of "toxic mutations". Mechanistically, ohnolog regulatory divergence is dictated by the number of bound transcription factors in promoters, with transposable elements being one likely source of novel binding sites driving tissue-specific gains in expression.
CONCLUSIONS: Our results imply pervasive adaptive expression evolution following WGD to overcome the immediate challenges posed by genome doubling and to exploit the long-term genetic opportunities for novel phenotype evolution.