Adaptive evolutionary paths from UV reception to sensing violet light by epistatic interactions

Science Advances  18 Sep 2015:
Vol. 1, no. 8, e1500162
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500162

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Ultraviolet (UV) reception is useful for such basic behaviors as mate choice, foraging, predator avoidance, communication, and navigation, whereas violet reception improves visual resolution and subtle contrast detection. UV and violet reception are mediated by the short wavelength–sensitive (SWS1) pigments that absorb light maximally (λmax) at ~360 nm and ~395 to 440 nm, respectively. Because of strong nonadditive (epistatic) interactions among amino acid changes in the pigments, the adaptive evolutionary mechanisms of these phenotypes are not well understood. Evolution of the violet pigment of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis, λmax = 423 nm) from the UV pigment in the amphibian ancestor (λmax = 359 nm) can be fully explained by eight mutations in transmembrane (TM) I–III segments. We show that epistatic interactions involving the remaining TM IV–VII segments provided evolutionary potential for the frog pigment to gradually achieve its violet-light reception by tuning its color sensitivity in small steps. Mutants in these segments also impair pigments that would cause drastic spectral shifts and thus eliminate them from viable evolutionary pathways. The overall effects of epistatic interactions involving TM IV–VII segments have disappeared at the last evolutionary step and thus are not detectable by studying present-day pigments. Therefore, characterizing the genotype-phenotype relationship during each evolutionary step is the key to uncover the true nature of epistasis.

  • adaptive mutations
  • ancestral amino acids
  • chemical impairments
  • evolutionary trajectories
  • epistatic interactions
  • UV reception
  • violet reception
  • visual pigments
  • mutagenesis experiments
  • vertebrates

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