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Comparative genomics using Fugu reveals insights into regulatory subfunctionalization

Adam Woolfe12* and Greg Elgar1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biological Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS, UK

2 Genomic Functional Analysis Section, National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health, Rockville, MD 20870, USA

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Genome Biology 2007, 8:R53  doi:10.1186/gb-2007-8-4-r53

Published: 11 April 2007



A major mechanism for the preservation of gene duplicates in the genome is thought to be mediated via loss or modification of cis-regulatory subfunctions between paralogs following duplication (a process known as regulatory subfunctionalization). Despite a number of gene expression studies that support this mechanism, no comprehensive analysis of regulatory subfunctionalization has been undertaken at the level of the distal cis-regulatory modules involved. We have exploited fish-mammal genomic alignments to identify and compare more than 800 conserved non-coding elements (CNEs) that associate with genes that have undergone fish-specific duplication and retention.


Using the abundance of duplicated genes within the Fugu genome, we selected seven pairs of teleost-specific paralogs involved in early vertebrate development, each containing clusters of CNEs in their vicinity. CNEs present around each Fugu duplicated gene were identified using multiple alignments of orthologous regions between single-copy mammalian orthologs (representing the ancestral locus) and each fish duplicated region in turn. Comparative analysis reveals a pattern of element retention and loss between paralogs indicative of subfunctionalization, the extent of which differs between duplicate pairs. In addition to complete loss of specific regulatory elements, a number of CNEs have been retained in both regions but may be responsible for more subtle levels of subfunctionalization through sequence divergence.


Comparative analysis of conserved elements between duplicated genes provides a powerful approach for studying regulatory subfunctionalization at the level of the regulatory elements involved.