Subterranean mammals show convergent regression in ocular genes and enhancers, along with adaptation to tunneling
Raghavendran Partha, Bharesh K Chauhan, Zelia Ferreira, Joseph D Robinson, Kira Lathrop, Ken K Nischal, Maria Chikina (corresponding author), Nathan L Clark (corresponding author)
Abstract: The underground environment imposes unique demands on life that have led subterranean species to evolve specialized traits, many of which evolved convergently. We studied convergence in evolutionary rate in subterranean mammals in order to associate phenotypic evolution with specific genetic regions. We identified a strong excess of vision- and skin-related genes that changed at accelerated rates in the subterranean environment due to relaxed constraint and adaptive evolution. We also demonstrate that ocular-specific transcriptional enhancers were convergently accelerated, whereas enhancers active outside the eye were not. Furthermore, several uncharacterized genes and regulatory sequences demonstrated convergence and thus constitute novel candidate sequences for congenital ocular disorders. The strong evidence of convergence in these species indicates that evolution in this environment is recurrent and predictable and can be used to gain insights into phenotype–genotype relationships.