Project Team: Deborah Stenkamp (PI), Diana Mitchell, Robert Mackin, Jagdish Patel

Gene replication is an established mechanism for the generation of raw genetic material upon which evolution may act. For example, tandem replication of genes to generate arrays of paralogs underlies functional diversification in vertebrate sensory systems. Tandem replication of opsin (visual pigment) genes and subsequent neofunctionalization provide selective advantages for the exploitation of novel visual environments, food sources, and mate selection. Despite their importance, the mechanisms underlying the subsequent “acts” of neo-functionalization of new genetic material are not clear. In this Modeling Access Grant proposal, we use the tandemly-replicated cone opsin genes of teleosts and primates to address this significant knowledge gap. The tandemly-replicated cone opsin genes are ideal for this study because many independent tandem replications have occurred very recently, and because experimental protein structures are available to inform molecular models. Early in vertebrate evolution, one-rod opsin (RH1) and four cone opsin.