New genes from old: Asymmetric divergence of gene duplicates and the evolution of development

Peter W.H. Holland*, Ferdinand Marlétaz, Ignacio Maeso, Thomas L. Dunwell, Jordi Paps

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)
174 Downloads (Pure)


Gene duplications and gene losses have been frequent events in the evolution of animal genomes, with the balance between these two dynamic processes contributing to major differences in gene number between species. After gene duplication, it is common for both daughter genes to accumulate sequence change at approximately equal rates. In some cases, however, the accumulation of sequence change is highly uneven with one copy radically diverging from its paralogue. Such ‘asymmetric evolution’ seems commoner after tandem gene duplication than after whole-genome duplication, and can generate substantially novel genes. We describe examples of asymmetric evolution in duplicated homeobox genes of moths, molluscs and mammals, in each case generating new homeobox genes that were recruited to novel developmental roles. The prevalence of asymmetric divergence of gene duplicates has been underappreciated, in part, because the origin of highly divergent genes can be difficult to resolve using standard phylogenetic methods.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20150480
Number of pages11
JournalPhilosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1713
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2017


  • Genome duplication
  • Homeobox
  • Lepidoptera
  • Mammalia
  • Mollusca
  • Tandem duplication


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