Whole-genome duplications spurred the functional diversification of the globin gene superfamily in vertebrates

Federico G. Hoffmann, Juan C. Opazo, Jay F. Storz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


It has been hypothesized that two successive rounds of whole-genome duplication (WGD) in the stem lineage of vertebrates provided genetic raw materials for the evolutionary innovation of many vertebrate-specific features. However, it has seldom been possible to trace such innovations to specific functional differences between paralogous gene products that derive from a WGD event. Here, we report genomic evidence for a direct link between WGD and key physiological innovations in the vertebrate oxygen transport system. Specifically, we demonstrate that key globin proteins that evolved specialized functions in different aspects of oxidative metabolism (hemoglobin, myoglobin, and cytoglobin) represent paralogous products of two WGD events in the vertebrate common ancestor. Analysis of conserved macrosynteny between the genomes of vertebrates and amphioxus (subphylum Cephalochordata) revealed that homologous chromosomal segments defined by myoglobin = globin-E, cytoglobin, and the a-globin gene cluster each descend from the same linkage group in the reconstructed proto-karyotype of the chordate common ancestor. The physiological division of labor between the oxygen transport function of hemoglobin and the oxygen storage function of myoglobin played a pivotal role in the evolution of aerobic energy metabolism, supporting the hypothesis that WGDs helped fuel key innovations in vertebrate evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)303-312
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • Cytoglobin
  • Genome duplication
  • Globin gene family
  • Hemoglobin
  • Myoglobin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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