The expansion and functional diversification of the mammalian ribonuclease a superfamily epitomizes the efficiency of multigene families at generating biological novelty

Stephen M. Goo, Soochin Cho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Scopus citations


The ribonuclease (RNase) A superfamily is a vertebrate-specific gene family. Because of a massive expansion that occurred during the earlymammalianevolution, extant mammalsin general have much more RNasegenes than nonmammalian vertebrates. Mammalian RNases have been associated with diverse physiological functions including digestion, cytotoxicity, angiogenesis, male reproduction, and host defense. However, it is still uncertain when their expansion occurred and how a wide array of functions arose during their evolution. To answer these questions, we generate a compendium of all RNase genes identified in 20 complete mammalian genomes including the platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus. Using this, we delineate 13 ancient RNase gene lineages that arose before the divergence between the monotreme and the other mammals (∼220 Ma). These 13 ancient gene lineages are differentially retained in the 20 mammals, and the rate of protein sequence evolution is highly variable among them, which suggest that they have undergone extensive functional diversification. In addition, we identify 22 episodes of recent expansion of RNase genes, many of which have signatures of adaptive functional differentiation. Exemplifying this, bursts of gene duplication occurred for the RNase1, RNase4, and RNase5 genes of the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), which might have contributed to the species' effective defense against heavier pathogen loads caused by its communal roosting behavior. Our study illustrates how host-defense systems can generate new functions efficiently by employing a multigene family, which is crucial for a host organism to adapt to its ever-changing pathogen environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2124-2140
Number of pages17
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2013


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics

Cite this