Cis-regulatory sequence variation and association with Mycoplasma load in natural populations of the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)

Authors

  • Niclas Backström,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Evolutionary Biology, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
    • Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB), Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ), Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
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  • Daria Shipilina,

    1. Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB), Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ), Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
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  • Mozes P. K. Blom,

    1. Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB), Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ), Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
    2. Division of Ecology, Evolution and Genetics, Research School of Biology, Australian National University of Canberra, Acton, Australia
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  • Scott V. Edwards

    1. Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB), Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ), Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
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Correspondence

Niclas Backström, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, 26 Oxford street, 02138 Cambridge MA. Tel: +1-617-496-2397; Fax: +1-617-495-5667; Email: backstr@fas.harvard.edu

Abstract

Characterization of the genetic basis of fitness traits in natural populations is important for understanding how organisms adapt to the changing environment and to novel events, such as epizootics. However, candidate fitness-influencing loci, such as regulatory regions, are usually unavailable in nonmodel species. Here, we analyze sequence data from targeted resequencing of the cis-regulatory regions of three candidate genes for disease resistance (CD74, HSP90α, and LCP1) in populations of the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) historically exposed (Alabama) and naïve (Arizona) to Mycoplasma gallisepticum. Our study, the first to quantify variation in regulatory regions in wild birds, reveals that the upstream regions of CD74 and HSP90α are GC-rich, with the former exhibiting unusually low sequence variation for this species. We identified two SNPs, located in a GC-rich region immediately upstream of an inferred promoter site in the gene HSP90α, that were significantly associated with Mycoplasma pathogen load in the two populations. The SNPs are closely linked and situated in potential regulatory sequences: one in a binding site for the transcription factor nuclear NFYα and the other in a dinucleotide microsatellite ((GC)6). The genotype associated with pathogen load in the putative NFYα binding site was significantly overrepresented in the Alabama birds. However, we did not see strong effects of selection at this SNP, perhaps because selection has acted on standing genetic variation over an extremely short time in a highly recombining region. Our study is a useful starting point to explore functional relationships between sequence polymorphisms, gene expression, and phenotypic traits, such as pathogen resistance that affect fitness in the wild.

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