Journal Article

On the Origin and Evolution of Vertebrate Olfactory Receptor Genes: Comparative Genome Analysis Among 23 Chordate Species

Yoshihito Niimura

in Genome Biology and Evolution

Published on behalf of Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution

Volume 1, issue , pages 34-44
Published in print January 2009 |
Published online April 2009 | e-ISSN: 1759-6653 | DOI:

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Genetics and Genomics


Show Summary Details


Olfaction is a primitive sense in organisms. Both vertebrates and insects have receptors for detecting odor molecules in the environment, but the evolutionary origins of these genes are different. Among studied vertebrates, mammals have ∼1,000 olfactory receptor (OR) genes, whereas teleost fishes have much smaller (∼100) numbers of OR genes. To investigate the origin and evolution of vertebrate OR genes, I attempted to determine near-complete OR gene repertoires by searching whole-genome sequences of 14 nonmammalian chordates, including cephalochordates (amphioxus), urochordates (ascidian and larvacean), and vertebrates (sea lamprey, elephant shark, five teleost fishes, frog, lizard, and chicken), followed by a large-scale phylogenetic analysis in conjunction with mammalian OR genes identified from nine species. This analysis showed that the amphioxus has >30 vertebrate-type OR genes though it lacks distinctive olfactory organs, whereas all OR genes appear to have been lost in the urochordate lineage. Some groups of genes (θ, κ, and λ) that are phylogenetically nested within vertebrate OR genes showed few gene gains and losses, which is in sharp contrast to the evolutionary pattern of OR genes, suggesting that they are actually non-OR genes. Moreover, the analysis demonstrated a great difference in OR gene repertoires between aquatic and terrestrial vertebrates, reflecting the necessity for the detection of water-soluble and airborne odorants, respectively. However, a minor group (β) of genes that are atypically present in both aquatic and terrestrial vertebrates was also found. These findings should provide a critical foundation for further physiological, behavioral, and evolutionary studies of olfaction in various organisms.

Keywords: olfactory receptor; multigene family; molecular evolution; chordate; vertebrate; amphioxus

Journal Article.  6657 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Bioinformatics and Computational Biology ; Evolutionary Biology ; Genetics and Genomics

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.