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The prevalence of copy number increase at multiallelic copy number variants associated with cave colonization.

Molecular Ecology 2024 March 32
Copy number variation is a common contributor to phenotypic diversity, yet its involvement in ecological adaptation is not easily discerned. Instances of parallelly evolving populations of the same species in a similar environment marked by strong selective pressures present opportunities to study the role of copy number variants (CNVs) in adaptation. By identifying CNVs that repeatedly occur in multiple populations of the derived ecotype and are not (or are rarely) present in the populations of the ancestral ecotype, the association of such CNVs with adaptation to the novel environment can be inferred. We used this paradigm to identify CNVs associated with recurrent adaptation of the Mexican tetra (Astyanax mexicanus) to cave environment. Using a read-depth approach, we detected CNVs from previously re-sequenced genomes of 44 individuals belonging to two ancestral surfaces and three derived cave populations. We identified 102 genes and 292 genomic regions that repeatedly diverge in copy number between the two ecotypes and occupy 0.8% of the reference genome. Functional analysis revealed their association with processes previously recognized to be relevant for adaptation, such as vision, immunity, oxygen consumption, metabolism, and neural function and we propose that these variants have been selected for in the cave or surface waters. The majority of the ecotype-divergent CNVs are multiallelic and display copy number increases in cavefish compared to surface fish. Our findings suggest that multiallelic CNVs - including gene duplications - and divergence in copy number provide a fast route to produce novel phenotypes associated with adaptation to subterranean life.

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