Duplication and Divergence of 2 Distinct Pancreatic Ribonuclease Genes in Leaf-Eating African and Asian Colobine Monkeys

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Unique among primates, the colobine monkeys have adapted to a predominantly leaf-eating diet by evolving a foregut that utilizes bacterial fermentation to breakdown and absorb nutrients from such a food source. It has been hypothesized that pancreatic ribonuclease (pRNase) has been recruited to perform a role as a digestive enzyme in foregut fermenters, such as artiodactyl ruminants and the colobines. We present molecular analyses of 23 pRNase gene sequences generated from 8 primate taxa, including 2 African and 2 Asian colobine species. The pRNase gene is single copy in all noncolobine primate species assayed but has duplicated more than once in both the African and Asian colobine monkeys. Phylogenetic reconstructions show that the pRNase-coding and noncoding regions are under different evolutionary constraints, with high levels of concerted evolution among gene duplicates occurring predominantly in the noncoding regions. Our data suggest that 2 functionally distinct pRNases have been selected for in the colobine monkeys, with one group adapting to the role of a digestive enzyme by evolving at an increased rate with loss of positive charge, namely arginine residues. Conclusions relating our data to general hypotheses of evolution following gene duplication are discussed.

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