Co-Option and De Novo Gene Evolution Underlie Molluscan Shell Diversity

Felipe Aguilera, Carmel McDougall, Bernard M Degnan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Molluscs fabricate shells of incredible diversity and complexity by localized secretions from the dorsal epithelium of the mantle. Although distantly related molluscs express remarkably different secreted gene products, it remains unclear if the evolution of shell structure and pattern is underpinned by the differential co-option of conserved genes or the integration of lineage-specific genes into the mantle regulatory program. To address this, we compare the mantle transcriptomes of 11 bivalves and gastropods of varying relatedness. We find that each species, including four Pinctada (pearl oyster) species that diverged within the last 20 Ma, expresses a unique mantle secretome. Lineage- or species-specific genes comprise a large proportion of each species' mantle secretome. A majority of these secreted proteins have unique domain architectures that include repetitive, low complexity domains (RLCDs), which evolve rapidly, and have a proclivity to expand, contract and rearrange in the genome. There are also a large number of secretome genes expressed in the mantle that arose before the origin of gastropods and bivalves. Each species expresses a unique set of these more ancient genes consistent with their independent co-option into these mantle gene regulatory networks. From this analysis, we infer lineage-specific secretomes underlie shell diversity, and include both rapidly evolving RLCD-containing proteins, and the continual recruitment and loss of both ancient and recently evolved genes into the periphery of the regulatory network controlling gene expression in the mantle epithelium.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)779-792
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • Animal Shells/metabolism
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Bivalvia/genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Expressed Sequence Tags
  • Gastropoda/genetics
  • Gene Expression Profiling/methods
  • Genetic Variation/genetics
  • Genome
  • Mollusca/genetics
  • Pinctada/genetics
  • Transcriptome


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