Adaptive Changes in Hemoglobin Function in High-Altitude Tibetan Canids Were Derived via Gene Conversion and Introgression

Anthony V. Signore, Ying Zhong Yang, Quan Yu Yang, Ga Qin, Hideaki Moriyama, Ri Li Ge, Jay F. Storz, Claus Wilke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


A key question in evolutionary biology concerns the relative importance of different sources of adaptive genetic variation, such as de novo mutations, standing variation, and introgressive hybridization. A corollary question concerns how allelic variants derived from these different sources may influence the molecular basis of phenotypic adaptation. Here, we use a protein-engineering approach to examine the phenotypic effect of putatively adaptive hemoglobin (Hb) mutations in the high-altitude Tibetan wolf that were selectively introgressed into the Tibetan mastiff, a high-altitude dog breed that is renowned for its hypoxia tolerance. Experiments revealed that the introgressed coding variants confer an increased Hb-O2 affinity in conjunction with an enhanced Bohr effect. We also document that affinity-enhancing mutations in the β-globin gene of Tibetan wolf were originally derived via interparalog gene conversion from a tandemly linked β-globin pseudogene. Thus, affinity-enhancing mutations were introduced into the β-globin gene of Tibetan wolf via one form of intragenomic lateral transfer (ectopic gene conversion) and were subsequently introduced into the Tibetan mastiff genome via a second form of lateral transfer (introgression). Site-directed mutagenesis experiments revealed that the increased Hb-O2 affinity requires a specific two-site combination of amino acid replacements, suggesting that the molecular underpinnings of Hb adaptation in Tibetan mastiff (involving mutations that arose in a nonexpressed gene and which originally fixed in Tibetan wolf) may be qualitatively distinct from functionally similar changes in protein function that could have evolved via sequential fixation of de novo mutations during the breed's relatively short duration of residency at high altitude.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2227-2237
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


  • Hemoglobin
  • High-altitude
  • Hypoxia
  • Introgression
  • Tibetan Wolf
  • Tibetan mastiff

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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