The major families of chromatin remodelers have been conserved throughout eukaryotic evolution. Because they play broad, pleiotropic roles in gene regulation, it was not known if their functions could change rapidly. Here, we show that major alterations in the use of chromatin remodelers are possible, because the nucleosome remodeling factor (NURF) complex has acquired a unique role in the sperm/oocyte decision of the nematode Caenorhabditis briggsae. First, lowering the activity of C. briggsae NURF-1 or ISW-1, the core components of the NURF complex, causes germ cells to become oocytes rather than sperm. This observation is based on the analysis of weak alleles and null mutations that were induced with TALENs and on RNA interference. Second, qRT-polymerase chain reaction data show that the C. briggsae NURF complex promotes the expression of Cbr-fog-1 and Cbr-fog-3, two genes that control the sperm/oocyte decision. This regulation occurs in the third larval stage and affects the expression of later spermatogenesis genes. Third, double mutants reveal that the NURF complex and the transcription factor TRA-1 act independently on Cbr-fog-1 and Cbr-fog-3. TRA-1 binds both promoters, and computer analyses predict that these binding sites are buried in nucleosomes, so we suggest that the NURF complex alters chromatin structure to allow TRA-1 access to Cbr-fog-1 and Cbr-fog-3. Finally, lowering NURF activity by mutation or RNA interference does not affect this trait in other nematodes, including the sister species C. nigoni, so it must have evolved recently. We conclude that altered chromatin remodeling could play an important role in evolutionary change.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology