Origin of sphinx, a young chimeric RNA gene in Drosophila melanogaster

Wen Wang, Frédéric G. Brunet, Eviatar Nevo, Manyuan Long

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Non-protein-coding RNA genes play an important role in various biological processes. How new RNA genes originated and whether this process is controlled by similar evolutionary mechanisms for the origin of protein-coding genes remains unclear. A young chimeric RNA gene that we term sphinx (spx) provides the first insight into the early stage of evolution of RNA genes. spx originated as an insertion of a retroposed sequence of the ATP synthase chain F gene at the cytological region 60DB since the divergence of Drosophila melanogaster from its sibling species 2-3 million years ago. This retrosequence, which is located at 102F on the fourth chromosome, recruited a nearby exon and intron, thereby evolving a chimeric gene structure. This molecular process suggests that the mechanism of exon shuffling, which can generate protein-coding genes, also plays a role in the origin of RNA genes. The subsequent evolutionary process of spx has been associated with a high nucleotide substitution rate, possibly driven by a continuous positive Darwinian selection for a novel function, as is shown in its sex- and development-specific alternative splicing. To test whether spx has adapted to different environments, we investigated its population genetic structure in the unique "Evolution Canyon" in Israel, revealing a similar haplotype structure in spx, and thus similar evolutionary forces operating on spx between environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4448-4453
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2 Apr 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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