The horizontal transfer of genes between distantly related organisms is undoubtedly a major factor in the evolution of novel traits. Because genes are functionless without expression, horizontally transferred genes must acquire appropriate transcriptional regulations in their recipient organisms, although the evolutionary mechanism is not known well. The defining characteristic of tunicates is the presence of a cellulose containing tunic covering the adult and larval body surface. Cellulose synthase was acquired by horizontal gene transfer from Actinobacteria. We found that acquisition of the binding site of AP-2 transcription factor was essential for tunicate cellulose synthase to gain epidermal-specific expression. Actinobacteria have very GC-rich genomes, regions of which are capable of inducing specific expression in the tunicate epidermis as the AP-2 binds to a GC-rich region. Therefore, the actinobacterial cellulose synthase could have been potentiated to evolve its new function in the ancestor of tunicates with a higher probability than the evolution depending solely on a spontaneous event.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3588713.
- Received August 1, 2016.
- Accepted November 15, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.