The divergence of regulatory regions and gene regulatory network (GRN) rewiring is a key driver of cichlid phenotypic diversity. However, the contribution of miRNA-binding site turnover has yet to be linked to GRN evolution across cichlids. Here, we extend our previous studies by analyzing the selective constraints driving evolution of miRNA and transcription factor (TF)-binding sites of target genes, to infer instances of cichlid GRN rewiring associated with regulatory binding site turnover. Comparative analyses identified increased species-specific networks that are functionally associated to traits of cichlid phenotypic diversity. The evolutionary rewiring is associated with differential models of miRNA- and TF-binding site turnover, driven by a high proportion of fast-evolving polymorphic sites in adaptive trait genes compared with subsets of random genes. Positive selection acting upon discrete mutations in these regulatory regions is likely to be an important mechanism in rewiring GRNs in rapidly radiating cichlids. Regulatory variants of functionally associated miRNA- and TF-binding sites of visual opsin genes differentially segregate according to phylogeny and ecology of Lake Malawi species, identifying both rewired, for example, clade-specific and conserved network motifs of adaptive trait associated GRNs. Our approach revealed several novel candidate regulators, regulatory regions, and three-node motifs across cichlid genomes with previously reported associations to known adaptive evolutionary traits.
- gene regulatory network
- molecular evolution