Correcting for differential transcript coverage reveals a strong relationship between alternative splicing and organism complexity

L. Chen, S.J. Bush, J.M. Tovar-Corona, Atahualpa Castillo Morales, A.O. Urrutia

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What at the genomic level underlies organism complexity? Although several genomic features have been associated with organism complexity, in the case of alternative splicing, which has long been proposed to explain the variation in complexity, no such link has been established. Here, we analyzed over 39 million expressed sequence tags available for 47 eukaryotic species with fully sequenced genomes to obtain a comparable index of alternative splicing estimates, which corrects for the distorting effect of a variable number of transcripts per species-an important obstacle for comparative studies of alternative splicing. We find that alternative splicing has steadily increased over the last 1,400 My of eukaryotic evolution and is strongly associated with organism complexity, assayed as the number of cell types. Importantly, this association is not explained as a by-product of covariance between alternative splicing with other variables previously linked to complexity including gene content, protein length, proteome disorder, and protein interactivity. In addition, we found no evidence to suggest that the relationship of alternative splicing to cell type number is explained by drift due to reduced Ne in more complex species. Taken together, our results firmly establish alternative splicing as a significant predictor of organism complexity and are, in principle, consistent with an important role of transcript diversification through alternative splicing as a means of determining a genome's functional information capacity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1402-1413
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number6
Early online date27 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014


  • organism complexity
  • alternative splicing
  • genome evolution
  • transcriptome evolution
  • expressed sequence tags


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