Enhanced evolution by stochastically variable modification of epigenetic marks in the early embryo

Sergio Branciamore, Andrei S. Rodin, Arthur D. Riggs, Sergei N. Rodin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Citations (Scopus)


Evolution by gene duplication is generally accepted as one of the crucial driving forces for the gain of new complexity and functions, but the formation of pseudogenes remains a problem for this mechanism. Here we expand on earlier ideas that epigenetic modifications can drive neo- and subfunctionalization in evolution by gene duplication. We explore the effects of stochastic epigenetic modifications on the evolution (and thus development) of complex organisms in a constant environment. Modeling is done both using a modified genetic drift analytical treatment and computer simulations,which were found to agree. A transposon silencing model is also explored. Some key assumptions made include (i) stochastic, incomplete removal (or addition) of repressive epigenetic marks takes place during a window(s) of opportunity in the zygote and early embryo; (ii) there is no statistical variation of the marks after the window closes; and (iii) the genes affected are sensitive to dosage. Our genetic drift treatment takes into account that after gene duplication the prevailing case upon which selection operates is a duplicate/singlet heterozygote; to the best of our knowledge, this has not been considered in previous treatments. We conclude fromour modeling that stochastic epigeneticmodifications,with rates consistentwith experimental observation, can both increase the rate of gene fixation and decrease pseudogenization, thus dramatically improving the efficacy of evolution by gene duplication. We also find that a transposon silencing model is advantageous for fixation of recessive genes in diploid organisms, especially with large effective population sizes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6353-6358
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - Apr 29 2014


  • Computational biology
  • DNA methylation
  • Developmental biology
  • Mathematical modeling
  • Molecular evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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