Document Type


Date of Degree


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

John M. Logsdon, Jr.


Meiosis is necessary for sexual reproduction in eukaryotes. Genetic recombination between non-sister homologous chromosomes is needed in most organisms for successful completion of the first meiotic division. Proteins that function during meiotic recombination have been studied extensively in model organisms. However, less is known about the evolution of these proteins, especially among protists. We searched the genomes of diverse eukaryotes, representing all currently recognized supergroups, for 26 genes encoding proteins important for different stages of interhomolog recombination. We also performed phylogenetic analyses to determine the evolutionary relationships of gene homologs. At least 23 of the genes tested (nine that are known to function only during meiosis in model organisms) are likely to have been present in the Last Eukaryotic Common Ancestor (LECA). These genes encode products that function during: i) synaptonemal complex formation; ii) interhomolog DNA strand exchange; iii) Holliday junction resolution; and iv) sister-chromatid cohesion. These data strongly suggest that the LECA was capable of these distinct and important functions during meiosis. We also determined that several genes whose products function during both mitosis and meiosis are paralogs of genes whose products are known to function only during meiosis. Therefore, these meiotic genes likely arose by duplication events that occurred prior to the LECA. The Rad51 protein catalyzes DNA strand exchange during both mitosis and meiosis, while Dmc1 catalyzes interhomolog DNA strand exchange only during meiosis. To study the evolution of these important proteins, we performed degenerate PCR and extensive nucleotide and protein sequence database searches to obtain data from representatives of all available eukaryotic supergroups. We also performed phylogenetic analyses on the Rad51 and Dmc1 protein sequence data obtained to evaluate their utility as phylogenetic markers. We determined that evolutionary relationships of five of the six currently recognized eukaryotic supergroups are supported with Bayesian phylogenetic analyses. Using this dataset, we also identified ten amino acid residues that are highly conserved among Rad51 and Dmc1 protein sequences and, therefore, are likely to confer protein-specific functions. Due to the distributions of these residues, they are likely to have been present in the Rad51 and Dmc1 proteins of the LECA.

To address an important issue with the gene inventory method of scientific inquiry, we developed a heuristic metric for determining whether apparent gene absences are due to limitations of the sequence search regimen or represent true losses of genes from genomes. We collected RNA polymerase I (Pol I), Replication Protein A (RPA), and DNA strand exchange (SE) sequence data from 47 diverse eukaryotes. We then compared the numbers of apparent absences to a single measure of protein sequence length and sequence conservation (Smith-Waterman pairwise alignment (S-W) scores) obtained by comparing yeast and human protein sequence data. Using Poisson correlation regression to analyze the Pol I and RPA subunit datasets, we confirmed that S-W scores and apparent gene absences are correlated. We also determined that genes encoding products that are critical for interhomolog SE in model organisms (Rad52, Rad51, Dmc1, Rad54, and Rdh54) have been lost frequently during eukaryotic evolution. Saccharomyces cerevisiae null rad52, dmc1, rad54, and rdh54 mutant phenotypes are suppressed by rad51 overexpression or mutation. If rad51 overexpression or mutation affects other eukaryotes in a similar fashion, this phenomenon may account for frequent losses of genes whose products are critical for the completion of meiosis in model organisms. Finally, we place this work into greater context with a review of hypotheses for the selective forces and mechanisms that resulted in the origin of meiosis. The review and the data presented in this thesis provide the basis for a model of the origin of meiotic genes in which meiosis arose from mitosis by large-scale gene duplication, following a preadaptation that served to reduce increased numbers of chromosomes (from diploid to haploid) caused by erroneous eukaryotic cell-cell fusions.


Dmc1, interhomolog strand exchange, meiosis, Rad51, Rad52, recombination


xviii, 231 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 198-231).


Copyright 2011 Arthur Pightling

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