Mitochondrial involvement in vertebrate speciation? The Case of mito-nuclear genetic divergence in chameleons

Dan Bar-Yaacov, Zena Hadjivasiliou, Liron Levin, Gilad Barshad, Raz Zarivach, Amos Bouskila, Dan Mishmar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Compatibility between the nuclear (nDNA) and mitochondrial (mtDNA) genomes is important for organismal health. However, its significance for major evolutionary processes such as speciation is unclear, especially in vertebrates. We previously identified a sharp mtDNA-specific sequence divergence between morphologically indistinguishable chameleon populations (Chamaeleo chamaeleon recticrista) across an ancient Israeli marine barrier (Jezreel Valley). Because mtDNA introgression and gender-based dispersal were ruled out, we hypothesized that mtDNA spatial divisionwas maintained by mito-nuclear functional compensation. Here, we studied RNA-seq generated from each of ten chameleons representing the north and south populations and identified candidate nonsynonymous substitutions (NSSs) matching the mtDNA spatial distribution. The most prominent NSS occurred in 14 nDNA-encoded mitochondrial proteins. Increased chameleon sample size (N=70) confirmed the geographic differentiation in POLRMT, NDUFA5, ACO1, LYRM4, MARS2, andACAD9. Structural and functionality evaluation of these NSSs revealed high functionality. Mathematical modeling suggested that this mito-nuclear spatial divergence is consistent with hybrid breakdown. We conclude that our presented evidence and mathematical model underline mito-nuclear interactions as a likely role player in incipient speciation in vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3322-3336
Number of pages15
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2015


  • Mito-nuclear coevolution
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Nuclear DNA
  • RNA-seq
  • Speciation
  • Transcriptome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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