Gene duplication and gene conversion in class II MHC genes of New Zealand robins (Petroicidae)
In contrast to mammals, the evolution of MHC genes in birds appears to be characterized by high rates of gene duplication and concerted evolution. To further our understanding of the evolution of passerine MHC genes, we have isolated class II B sequences from two species of New Zealand robins, the South Island robin (Petroica australis australis), and the endangered Chatham Island black robin (Petroica traversi). Using an RT-PCR based approach we isolated four transcribed class II B MHC sequences from the black robin, and eight sequences from the South Island robin. RFLP analysis indicated that all class II B loci were contained within a single linkage group. Analysis of 3'-untranslated region sequences enabled putative orthologous loci to be identified in the two species, and indicated that multiple rounds of gene duplication have occurred within the MHC of New Zealand robins. The orthologous relationships are not retained within the coding region of the gene, instead the sequences group within species. A number of putative gene conversion events were identified across the length of our sequences that may account for this. Exon 2 sequences are highly diverse and appear to have diverged under balancing selection. It is also possible that gene conversion involving short stretches of sequence within exon 2 adds to this diversity. Our study is the first report of putative orthologous MHC loci in passerines, and provides further evidence for the importance of gene duplication and gene conversion in the evolution of the passerine MHC.