Cut, copy, move, delete: The study of human interferon genes reveal multiple mechanisms underlying their evolution in amniotes

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Interferons (IFNs) are rapidly evolving cytokines released when viral infections are detected in cells. Previous research suggests that genes encoding IFNs and their receptors duplicated extensively throughout vertebrate evolution. We present molecular genetic evidence that supports the use of nonallelic homologous recombination (NAHR) to expand select IFN genes during amniote evolution. The duplication of long regions of genome (encompassing at least one functional IFN gene) followed by the insertion of this genome fragment near its parent’s location, is commonly observed in many amniote genomes. Duplicates inserted away from duplication hotspots are not as frequently perturbed with new duplicates, and tend to survive long periods of evolution, sometimes becoming new IFN subtypes. Although most duplicates are inserted parallel to and near the original sequence, the insertion of the Kelch-like 9 gene within the Type I IFN locus of placental mammals promoted antiparallel insertion of gene duplicates between the Kelch-like 9 and IFN-ε loci. Genetic exchange between highly similar Type I gene duplicates as well as between Type III IFN gene duplicates homogenized their diversification. Oddly, Type III IFN genes migrated long distances throughout the genome more frequently than did Type I IFN genes. The inter-chromosomal movement of Type I IFN genes in amniotes correlated with complete intron loss in their gene structure, and repeatedly occurred with occasional Type III IFN genes.

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