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  1. Malik, Harmit S. (Ed.)
    A growing body of theoretical and experimental evidence suggests that intramolecular epistasis is a major determinant of rates and patterns of protein evolution and imposes a substantial constraint on the evolution of novel protein functions. Here, we examine the role of intramolecular epistasis in the recurrent evolution of resistance to cardiotonic steroids (CTS) across tetrapods, which occurs via specific amino acid substitutions to the α-subunit family of Na,K-ATPases (ATP1A). After identifying a series of recurrent substitutions at two key sites of ATP1A that are predicted to confer CTS resistance in diverse tetrapods, we then performed protein engineering experiments to test the functional consequences of introducing these substitutions onto divergent species backgrounds. In line with previous results, we find that substitutions at these sites can have substantial background-dependent effects on CTS resistance. Globally, however, these substitutions also have pleiotropic effects that are consistent with additive rather than background-dependent effects. Moreover, the magnitude of a substitution’s effect on activity does not depend on the overall extent of ATP1A sequence divergence between species. Our results suggest that epistatic constraints on the evolution of CTS-resistant forms of Na,K-ATPase likely depend on a small number of sites, with little dependence on overall levels of proteinmore »divergence. We propose that dependence on a limited number sites may account for the observation of convergent CTS resistance substitutions observed among taxa with highly divergent Na,K-ATPases (See S1 Text for Spanish translation).« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 16, 2023
  2. In natural populations of animals, a growing body of evidence suggests that introgressive hybridization may often serve as an important source of adaptive genetic variation. Population genomic studies of high-altitude vertebrates have provided strong evidence of positive selection on introgressed allelic variants, typically involving a long-term highland species as the donor and a more recently arrived colonizing species as the recipient. In high-altitude humans and canids from the Tibetan Plateau, case studies of adaptive introgression involving the HIF transcription factor, EPAS1 , have provided insights into complex histories of ancient introgression, including examples of admixture from now-extinct source populations. In Tibetan canids and Andean waterfowl, directed mutagenesis experiments involving introgressed hemoglobin variants successfully identified causative amino acid mutations and characterized their phenotypic effects, thereby providing insights into the functional properties of selectively introgressed alleles. We review case studies of adaptive introgression in high-altitude vertebrates and we highlight findings that may be of general significance for understanding mechanisms of environmental adaptation involving different sources of genetic variation.
  3. Abstract

    Biologists have long pondered the extreme limits of life on Earth, including the maximum elevation at which species can live and reproduce. Here we review evidence of a self-sustaining population of mice at an elevation that exceeds that of all previously reported for mammals. Five expeditions over 10 years to Volcán Llullaillaco on the Argentina/Chile border observed and collected mice at elevations ranging from 5,070 m at the mountain’s base to the summit at 6,739 m (22,110 feet). Previously unreported evidence includes observations and photographs of live animals and mummified remains, environmental DNA, and a soil microbial community reflecting animal activity that are evaluated in combination with previously reported video recordings and capture of live mice. All of the evidence identifies the mouse as the leaf-eared mouse Phyllotis vaccarum, and it robustly places the population within a haplotype group containing individuals from the Chilean Atacama Desert and nearby regions of Argentina. A critical review of the literature affirms that this population is not only an elevational record for mammals but for all terrestrial vertebrates to date, and we further find that many extreme elevations previously reported for mammals are based on scant or dubious evidence.

  4. Nielsen, Rasmus (Ed.)
    Abstract Population genomic analyses of high-altitude humans and other vertebrates have identified numerous candidate genes for hypoxia adaptation, and the physiological pathways implicated by such analyses suggest testable hypotheses about underlying mechanisms. Studies of highland natives that integrate genomic data with experimental measures of physiological performance capacities and subordinate traits are revealing associations between genotypes (e.g., hypoxia-inducible factor gene variants) and hypoxia-responsive phenotypes. The subsequent search for causal mechanisms is complicated by the fact that observed genotypic associations with hypoxia-induced phenotypes may reflect second-order consequences of selection-mediated changes in other (unmeasured) traits that are coupled with the focal trait via feedback regulation. Manipulative experiments to decipher circuits of feedback control and patterns of phenotypic integration can help identify causal relationships that underlie observed genotype–phenotype associations. Such experiments are critical for correct inferences about phenotypic targets of selection and mechanisms of adaptation.
  5. ABSTRACT Crocodilians are unique among vertebrates in that their hemoglobin (Hb) O2 binding is allosterically regulated by bicarbonate, which forms in red blood cells upon hydration of CO2. Although known for decades, this remarkable mode of allosteric control has not yet been experimentally verified with direct evidence of bicarbonate binding to crocodilian Hb, probably because of confounding CO2-mediated effects. Here, we provide the first quantitative analysis of the separate allosteric effects of CO2 and bicarbonate on purified Hb of the spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus). Using thin-layer gas diffusion chamber and Tucker chamber techniques, we demonstrate that both CO2 and bicarbonate bind to Hb with high affinity and strongly decrease O2 saturation of Hb. We propose that both effectors bind to an unidentified positively charged site containing a reactive amino group in the low-O2 affinity T conformation of Hb. These results provide the first experimental evidence that bicarbonate binds directly to crocodilian Hb and promotes O2 delivery independently of CO2. Using the gas diffusion chamber, we observed similar effects in Hbs of a phylogenetically diverse set of other caiman, alligator and crocodile species, suggesting that the unique mode of allosteric regulation by CO2 and bicarbonate evolved >80–100 million years ago inmore »the common ancestor of crocodilians. Our results show a tight and unusual linkage between O2 and CO2 transport in the blood of crocodilians, where the build-up of erytrocytic CO2 and bicarbonate ions during breath-hold diving or digestion facilitates O2 delivery, while Hb desaturation facilitates CO2 transport as protein-bound CO2 and bicarbonate.« less
  6. ABSTRACT Endotherms at high altitude face the combined challenges of cold and hypoxia. Cold increases thermoregulatory costs, and hypoxia may limit both thermogenesis and aerobic exercise capacity. Consequently, in comparisons between closely related highland and lowland taxa, we might expect to observe consistent differences in basal metabolic rate (BMR), maximal metabolic rate (MMR) and aerobic scope. Broad-scale comparative studies of birds reveal no association between BMR and native elevation, and altitude effects on MMR have not been investigated. We tested for altitude-related variation in aerobic metabolism in 10 Andean passerines representing five pairs of closely related species with contrasting elevational ranges. Mass-corrected BMR and MMR were significantly higher in most highland species relative to their lowland counterparts, but there was no uniform elevational trend across all pairs of species. Our results suggest that there is no simple explanation regarding the ecological and physiological causes of elevational variation in aerobic metabolism.
  7. ABSTRACT Physiological systems often have emergent properties but the effects of genetic variation on physiology are often unknown, which presents a major challenge to understanding the mechanisms of phenotypic evolution. We investigated whether genetic variants in haemoglobin (Hb) that contribute to high-altitude adaptation in deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) are associated with evolved changes in the control of breathing. We created F2 inter-population hybrids of highland and lowland deer mice to test for phenotypic associations of α- and β-globin variants on a mixed genetic background. Hb genotype had expected effects on Hb–O2 affinity that were associated with differences in arterial O2 saturation in hypoxia. However, high-altitude genotypes were also associated with breathing phenotypes that should contribute to enhancing O2 uptake in hypoxia. Mice with highland α-globin exhibited a more effective breathing pattern, with highland homozygotes breathing deeper but less frequently across a range of inspired O2, and this difference was comparable to the evolved changes in breathing pattern in deer mouse populations native to high altitude. The ventilatory response to hypoxia was augmented in mice that were homozygous for highland β-globin. The association of globin variants with variation in breathing phenotypes could not be recapitulated by acute manipulation of Hb–O2 affinity,more »because treatment with efaproxiral (a synthetic drug that acutely reduces Hb–O2 affinity) had no effect on breathing in normoxia or hypoxia. Therefore, adaptive variation in Hb may have unexpected effects on physiology in addition to the canonical function of this protein in circulatory O2 transport.« less
  8. Population genomic studies of humans and other animals at high altitude have generated many hypotheses about the genes and pathways that may have contributed to hypoxia adaptation. Future advances require experimental tests of such hypotheses to identify causal mechanisms. Studies to date illustrate the challenge of moving from lists of candidate genes to the identification of phenotypic targets of selection, as it can be difficult to determine whether observed genotype–phenotype associations reflect causal effects or secondary consequences of changes in other traits that are linked via homeostatic regulation. Recent work on high-altitude models such as deer mice has revealed both plastic and evolved changes in respiratory, cardiovascular, and metabolic traits that contribute to aerobic performance capacity in hypoxia, and analyses of tissue-specific transcriptomes have identified changes in regulatory networks that mediate adaptive changes in physiological phenotype. Here we synthesize recent results and discuss lessons learned from studies of high-altitude adaptation that lie at the intersection of genomics and physiology.