Chimeric Genes as a Source of Rapid Evolution in Drosophila melanogaster
Chimeric genes form through the combination of portions of existing coding sequences to create a new open reading frame. These new genes can create novel protein structures that are likely to serve as a strong source of novelty upon which selection can act. We have identified 14 chimeric genes that formed through DNA-level mutations in Drosophila melanogaster, and we investigate expression profiles, domain structures, and population genetics for each of these genes to examine their potential to effect adaptive evolution. We find that chimeric gene formation commonly produces mid-domain breaks and unites portions of wholly unrelated peptides, creating novel protein structures that are entirely distinct from other constructs in the genome. These new genes are often involved in selective sweeps. We further find a disparity between chimeric genes that have recently formed and swept to fixation versus chimeric genes that have been preserved over long periods of time, suggesting that preservation and adaptation are distinct processes. Finally, we demonstrate that chimeric gene formation can produce qualitative expression changes that are difficult to mimic through duplicate gene formation, and that extremely young chimeric genes (dS < 0.03) are more likely to be associated with selective sweeps than duplicate genes of the same age. Hence, chimeric genes can serve as an exceptional source of genetic novelty that can have a profound influence on adaptive evolution in D. melanogaster.