Sequence data for type I interferons (IFNs) have previously only been available for birds and eutherian ('placental') mammals, but not for the other two groups of extant mammals, the marsupials and monotremes. This has left a large gap in our knowledge of the evolutionary and functional relationships of what is a complex gene family in eutherians. In this study, a PCR-based survey of type I IFN genes from a marsupial, the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii), and a monotreme, the short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), was conducted. Along with Southern blot and phylogenetic analysis, this revealed a large number of type I IFN genes for the wallaby, rivalling that of eutherians, but relatively few type I IFN genes in the echidna. The wallaby genes include both IFNA and IFNB orthologues, indicating that the gene duplication leading to these subtypes occurred prior to the divergence of marsupials and eutherians some 130 million years ago. Results from this study support the idea that the expansion of type I IFN gene complexity in mammals coincides with a concomitant expansion in the functionality of these molecules. For example, this expansion in complexity may have, at least partially, facilitated the evolution of viviparity in marsupials and eutherians. Other evolutionary aspects of these sequences are also discussed.
- Type I interferon