Selection for Antimicrobial Peptide Diversity in Frogs Leads to Gene Duplication and Low Allelic Variation
Antimicrobial peptides are highly diverse pathogen-killing molecules. In many taxa, their evolution is characterized by positive selection and frequent gene duplication. It has been proposed that genes encoding antimicrobial peptides might be subject to balancing selection and/or an enhanced mutation rate, but these hypotheses have not been well evaluated because allelic variation has rarely been studied at antimicrobial peptide loci. We present an evolutionary analysis of novel antimicrobial peptide genes from leopard frogs, Rana. Our results demonstrate that a single genome contains multiple homologous copies, among which there is an excess of nonsynonymous nucleotide site divergence relative to that expected from synonymous site divergence. Thus, we confirm the trends of recurrent duplication and positive selection. Allelic variation is quite low relative to interspecies divergence, indicating a recent positive selective sweep with no evidence of balancing selection. Repeated gene duplication, rather than a balanced maintenance of divergent allelic variants at individual loci, appears to be how frogs have responded to selection for a diverse suite of antimicrobial peptides. Our data also support a pattern of enhanced synonymous site substitution in the mature peptide region of the gene, but we cannot conclude that this is due to an elevated mutation rate.