Gene regulation change has long been recognized as an important mechanism for phenotypic evolution. We used the evolution of yeast aerobic fermentation as a model to explore how gene regulation has evolved and how this process has contributed to phenotypic evolution and adaptation. Most eukaryotes fully oxidize glucose to CO2 and H2O in mitochondria to maximize energy yield, whereas some yeasts, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae and its relatives, predominantly ferment glucose into ethanol even in the presence of oxygen, a phenomenon known as aerobic fermentation. We examined the genome-wide gene expression levels among 12 different yeasts and found that a group of genes involved in the mitochondrial respiration process showed the largest reduction in gene expression level during the evolution of aerobic fermentation. Our analysis revealed that the downregulation of these genes was significantly associated with massive loss of binding motifs of Cbf1p in the fermentative yeasts. Our experimental assays confirmed the binding of Cbf1p to the predicted motif and the activator role of Cbf1p. In summary, our study laid a foundation to unravel the long-time mystery about the genetic basis of evolution of aerobic fermentation, providing new insights into understanding the role of cis-regulatory changes in phenotypic evolution.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics