Evolution of CYP2J19, a gene involved in colour vision and red coloration in birds: positive selection in the face of conservation and pleiotropy.

11 Apr 2018

Background: Exaggerated signals, such as brilliant colours, are usually assumed to evolve through antagonistic coevolution between senders and receivers, but the underlying genetic mechanisms are rarely known. Here we explore a recently identified "redness gene", CYP2J19, that is highly interesting in this context since it encodes a carotenoid-modifying enzyme (a C4 ketolase involved in both colour signalling and colour discrimination in the red (long wavelength) spectral region. Results: A single full-length CYP2J19 was retrieved from 43 species out of 70 avian genomes examined, representing all major avian clades. In addition, CYP2J19 sequences from 13 species of weaverbirds (Ploceidae), seven of which have red C4-ketocarotenoid coloration were analysed. Despite the conserved retinal function and pleiotropy of CYP2J19, analyses indicate that the gene has been positively selected throughout the radiation of birds, including sites within functional domains described in related CYP (cytochrome P450) loci. Analyses of eight further CYP loci across 25 species show that positive selection is common in this gene family in birds. There was no evidence for a change in selection pressure on CYP2J19 following co-option for red coloration in the weaverbirds. Conclusions: The results presented here are consistent with an ancestral conserved function of CYP2J19 in the pigmentation of red retinal oil droplets used for colour vision, and its subsequent co-option for red integumentary coloration. The cause of positive selection on CYP2J19 is unclear, but may be partly related to compensatory mutations related to selection at the adjacent gene CYP2J40.