Adaptive evolution and loss of a putative magnetoreceptor in passerines
Corinna Langebrake, Georg Manthey, Anders Frederiksen, Juan S. Lugo Ramos, Julien Y. Dutheil, Raisa Chetverikova, Ilia A. Solov'yov, Henrik Mouritsen, Miriam Liedvogel
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B.\ (Biological Sciences)
Migratory birds possess remarkable accuracy in orientation and navigationwhich involves various compass systems including the magnetic compass. Identifying the primary magnetosensor remains a fundamental open question. Cryptochromes (Cry) have been shown to be magnetically sensitive and Cry4a from a migratory songbird seems to show enhanced magnetic sensitivity in vitro compared to Cry4a from resident species. We investigate Cry and their potential involvement in magnetoreception in a phylogenetic framework, integrating molecular evolutionary analyses with protein dynamics modelling. Our analysis is based on 363 bird genomes and identifies different selection regimes in passerines. We show that Cry4a is characterized by strong positive selection and high variability, typical characteristics of sensor proteins. We identify key sites that are likely to have facilitated the evolution of an optimized sensory protein for nighttime orientation in songbirds. Additionally, we show that Cry4 was lost in hummingbirds, parrots and Tyranni (Suboscines), and thus identified a gene deletion, which might facilitate testing the function of Cry4a in birds. In contrast, the other avian Cry (Cry1 and Cry2) were highly conserved across all species, indicating basal, non-sensory functions. Our results support a specialization or functional differentiation of Cry4 in songbirds which could be magnetosensation.