Evolutionary inference across eukaryotes identifies specific pressures favoring mitochondrial gene retention

Iain G. Johnston*, Ben P. Williams

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Citations (Scopus)
247 Downloads (Pure)


Since their endosymbiotic origin, mitochondria have lost most of their genes. Although many selective mechanisms underlying the evolution of mitochondrial genomes have been proposed, a data-driven exploration of these hypotheses is lacking, and a quantitatively supported consensus remains absent. We developed HyperTraPS, a methodology coupling stochastic modeling with Bayesian inference, to identify the ordering of evolutionary events and suggest their causes. Using 2015 complete mitochondrial genomes, we inferred evolutionary trajectories of mtDNA gene loss across the eukaryotic tree of life. We find that proteins comprising the structural cores of the electron transport chain are preferentially encoded within mitochondrial genomes across eukaryotes. A combination of high GC content and high protein hydrophobicity is required to explain patterns of mtDNA gene retention; a model that accounts for these selective pressures can also predict the success of artificial gene transfer experiments in vivo. This work provides a general method for data-driven inference of the ordering of evolutionary and progressive events, here identifying the distinct features shaping mitochondrial genomes of present-day species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-111
Number of pages11
JournalCell Systems
Issue number2
Early online date18 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Histology
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Evolutionary inference across eukaryotes identifies specific pressures favoring mitochondrial gene retention'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this