Elucidating evolutionary features and functional implications of orphan genes in Leishmania major

Sumit Mukherjee, Arup Panda, Tapash Chandra Ghosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Orphan genes are protein coding genes that lack recognizable homologs in other organisms. These genes were reported to comprise a considerable fraction of coding regions in all sequenced genomes and thought to be allied with organism's lineage-specific traits. However, their evolutionary persistence and functional significance still remain elusive. Due to lack of homologs with the host genome and for their probable lineage-specific functional roles, orphan gene product of pathogenic protozoan might be considered as the possible therapeutic targets. Leishmania major is an important parasitic protozoan of the genus Leishmania that is associated with the disease cutaneous leishmaniasis. Therefore, evolutionary and functional characterization of orphan genes in this organism may help in understanding the factors prevailing pathogen evolution and parasitic adaptation. In this study, we systematically identified orphan genes of L. major and employed several in silico analyses for understanding their evolutionary and functional attributes. To trace the signatures of molecular evolution, we compared their evolutionary rate with non-orphan genes. In agreement with prior observations, here we noticed that orphan genes evolve at a higher rate as compared to non-orphan genes. Lower sequence conservation of orphan genes was previously attributed solely due to their younger gene age. However, here we observed that together with gene age, a number of genomic (like expression level, GC content, variation in codon usage) and proteomic factors (like protein length, intrinsic disorder content, hydropathicity) could independently modulate their evolutionary rate. We considered the interplay of all these factors and analyzed their relative contribution on protein evolutionary rate by regression analysis. On the functional level, we observed that orphan genes are associated with regulatory, growth factor and transport related processes. Moreover, these genes were found to be enriched with various types of interaction and trafficking motifs, implying their possible involvement in host-parasite interactions. Thus, our comprehensive analysis of L. major orphan genes provided evidence for their extensive roles in host-pathogen interactions and virulence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)330-337
Number of pages8
JournalInfection, Genetics and Evolution
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Evolutionary rate
  • Host-parasite interaction
  • Interaction and trafficking motifs
  • Lineage-specific adaptation
  • Orphan genes
  • Protein disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


Dive into the research topics of 'Elucidating evolutionary features and functional implications of orphan genes in Leishmania major'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this