Three tiers of genome evolution in reptiles
Characterization of reptilian genomes is essential for understanding the overall diversity and evolution of amniote genomes, because reptiles, which include birds, constitute a major fraction of the amniote evolutionary tree. To better understand the evolution and diversity of genomic characteristics in Reptilia, we conducted comparative analyses of online sequence data from Alligator mississippiensis (alligator) and Sphenodon punctatus (tuatara) as well as genome size and karyological data from a wide range of reptilian species. At the whole-genome and chromosomal tiers of organization, we find that reptilian genome size distribution is consistent with a model of continuous gradual evolution while genomic compartmentalization, as manifested in the number of microchromosomes and macrochromosomes, appears to have undergone early rapid change. At the sequence level, the third genomic tier, we find that exon size in Alligator is distributed in a pattern matching that of exons in Gallus (chicken), especially in the 101—200 bp size class. A small spike in the fraction of exons in the 301 bp—1 kb size class is also observed for Alligator, but more so for Sphenodon. For introns, we find that members of Reptilia have a larger fraction of introns within the 101 bp–2 kb size class and a lower fraction of introns within the 5–30 kb size class than do mammals. These findings suggest that the mode of reptilian genome evolution varies across three hierarchical levels of the genome, a pattern consistent with a mosaic model of genomic evolution.