The Evolution of Unusually Small Amelogenin Genes in Cetaceans; Pseudogenization, X–Y Gene Conversion, and Feeding Strategy

Kazuhiko Kawasaki, Masato Mikami, Mutsuo Goto, Junji Shindo, Masao Amano, Mikio Ishiyama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Among extant cetaceans, mysticetes are filter feeders that do not possess teeth and use their baleen for feeding, while most odontocetes are considered suction feeders, which capture prey by suction without biting or chewing with teeth. In the present study, we address the functionality of amelogenin (AMEL) genes in cetaceans. AMEL encodes a protein that is specifically involved in dental enamel formation and is located on the sex chromosomes in eutherians. The X-copy AMELX is functional in enamel-bearing eutherians, whereas the Y-copy AMELY appears to have undergone decay and was completely lost in some species. Consistent with these premises, we detected various deleterious mutations and/or non-canonical splice junctions in AMELX of mysticetes and four suction feeding odontocetes, Delphinapterus leucas, Monodon monoceros, Kogia breviceps, and Physeter macrocephalus, and in AMELY of mysticetes and odontocetes. Regardless of the functionality, both AMELX and AMELY are equally and unusually small in cetaceans, and even their functional AMELX genes presumably encode a degenerate core region, which is thought to be essential for enamel matrix assembly and enamel crystal growth. Furthermore, our results suggest that the most recent common ancestors of extant cetaceans had functional AMELX and AMELY, both of which are similar to AMELX of Platanista minor. Similar small AMELX and AMELY in archaic cetaceans can be explained by gene conversion between AMELX and AMELY. We speculate that common ancestors of modern cetaceans employed a degenerate AMELX, transferred from a decaying AMELY by gene conversion, at an early stage of their transition to suction feeders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)122-135
Number of pages14
JournalJournal Of Molecular Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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