Evolution of Xmrk: an oncogene, but also a speciation gene?

Authors

  • Manfred Schartl

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Würzburg, Physiologische Chemie I, Theodor-Boveri Institut für Biowissenschaften der Universität Würzburg Am Hubland, 97074 Würzburg
    • University of Würzburg, Physiologische Chemie I, Theodor-Boveri Institut für Biowissenschaften der Universität Würzburg Am Hubland, 97074 Würzburg.
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Abstract

Genes that exert their function when they are introduced into a foreign genetic background pose many questions to our current understanding of the forces and mechanisms that promote either the maintenance or divergence of gene functions over evolutionary time. The melanoma inducing Xmrk oncogene of the Southern platyfish (Xiphophorus maculatus) is a stable constituent of the genome of this species. It displays its tumorigenic function, however, almost exclusively only after inter-populational or, even more severely, interspecific hybridization events. The Xiphophorus hybrid melanoma system has gained attention in biomedical research as a genetic model for studying tumor formation. From an evolutionary perspective, a prominent question is: how could this gene persist over millions of years? An attractive hypothesis is that Xmrk, acting as a detrimental gene in a hybrid genome, could be a speciation gene that shields the gene pool of its species from mixing with other closely related sympatric species. In this article, I briefly review our current knowledge of the molecular genetics and biochemical functions of the Xmrk gene and discuss aspects of its evolutionary history and presence with respect to this idea. While Xmrk as a potentially injurious oncogene has clearly survived for millions of years, its role as a speciation gene has to be questioned. BioEssays 30:822–832, 2008. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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