Niimura, Y., and Nei, M. (2005) Evolutionary dynamics of olfactory receptor genes in fishes and tetrapods. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 102(17):6039-6044.
Olfaction, which is an important physiological function for the survival of mammals, is controlled by a large multigene family of olfactory receptor (OR) genes. Fishes also have this gene family, but the number of genes is known to be substantially smaller than in mammals. To understand the evolutionary dynamics of OR genes, we conducted a phylogenetic analysis of all functional genes identified from the genome sequences of zebrafish, pufferfish, frogs, chickens, humans, and mice. The results suggested that the most recent common ancestor between fishes and tetrapods had at least nine ancestral OR genes, and all OR genes identified were classified into nine groups, each of which originated from one ancestral gene. Eight of the nine group genes are still observed in current fish species, whereas only two group genes were found from mammalian genomes, showing that the OR gene family in fishes is much more diverse than in mammals. In mammals, however, one group of genes, gamma, expanded enormously, containing approximately 90% of the entire gene family. Interestingly, the gene groups observed in mammals or birds are nearly absent in fishes. The OR gene repertoire in frogs is as diverse as that in fishes, but the expansion of group gamma genes also occurred, indicating that the frog OR gene family has both mammal- and fish-like characters. All of these observations can be explained by the environmental change that organisms have experienced from the time of the common ancestor of all vertebrates to the present.