Concerted evolution of sea anemone neurotoxin genes is revealed through analysis of the Nematostella vectensis genome

Yehu Moran*, Hagar Weinberger, James C. Sullivan, Adam M. Reitzel, John R. Finnerty, Michael Gurevitz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Gene families, which encode toxins, are found in many poisonous animals, yet there is limited understanding of their evolution at the nucleotide level. The release of the genome draft sequence for the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis enabled a comprehensive study of a gene family whose neurotoxin products affect voltage-gated sodium channels. All gene family members are clustered in a highly repetitive ∼30-kb genomic region and encode a single toxin, Nv1. These genes exhibit extreme conservation at the nucleotide level which cannot be explained by purifying selection. This conservation greatly differs from the toxin gene families of other animals (e.g., snakes, scorpions, and cone snails), whose evolution was driven by diversifying selection, thereby generating a high degree of genetic diversity. The low nucleotide diversity at the Nv1 genes is reminiscent of that reported for DNA encoding ribosomal RNA (rDNA) and 2 hsp70 genes from Drosophila, which have evolved via concerted evolution. This evolutionary pattern was experimentally demonstrated in yeast rDNA and was shown to involve unequal crossing-over. Through sequence analysis of toxin genes from multiple N. vectensis populations and 2 other anemone species, Anemonia viridis and Actinia equina, we observed that the toxin genes for each sea anemone species are more similar to one another than to those of other species, suggesting they evolved by manner of concerted evolution. Furthermore, in 2 of the species (A. viridis and A. equina) we found genes that evolved under diversifying selection, suggesting that concerted evolution and accelerated evolution may occur simultaneously.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)737-747
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Concerted evolution
  • Nematostella vectensis
  • Sea anemone toxins


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