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A Comparative Analysis of Mitochondrial ORFans: New Clues on Their Origin and Role in Species with Doubly Uniparental Inheritance of Mitochondria

Milani, Liliana, Ghiselli, Fabrizio, Guerra, Davide, Breton, Sophie, Passamonti, Marco
Genome biology and evolution 2013 v.5 no.7 pp. 1408-1434
Bivalvia, animals, embryogenesis, females, gene duplication, genes, genomics, hosts, males, mitochondria, mitochondrial genome, open reading frames, proteins, spermatozoa
Despite numerous comparative mitochondrial genomics studies revealing that animal mitochondrial genomes are highly conserved in terms of gene content, supplementary genes are sometimes found, often arising from gene duplication. Mitochondrial ORFans (ORFs having no detectable homology and unknown function) were found in bivalve molluscs with Doubly Uniparental Inheritance (DUI) of mitochondria. In DUI animals, two mitochondrial lineages are present: one transmitted through females (F-type) and the other through males (M-type), each showing a specific and conserved ORF. The analysis of 34 mitochondrial major Unassigned Regions of Musculista senhousia F- and M-mtDNA allowed us to verify the presence of novel mitochondrial ORFs in this species and to compare them with ORFs from other species with ascertained DUI, with other bivalves and with animals showing new mitochondrial elements. Overall, 17 ORFans from nine species were analyzed for structure and function. Many clues suggest that the analyzed ORFans arose from endogenization of viral genes. The co-option of such novel genes by viral hosts may have determined some evolutionary aspects of host life cycle, possibly involving mitochondria. The structure similarity of DUI ORFans within evolutionary lineages may also indicate that they originated from independent events. If these novel ORFs are in some way linked to DUI establishment, a multiple origin of DUI has to be considered. These putative proteins may have a role in the maintenance of sperm mitochondria during embryo development, possibly masking them from the degradation processes that normally affect sperm mitochondria in species with strictly maternal inheritance.