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Genome Biology and Evolution


Trait loss represents an intriguing evolutionary problem, particularly when it occurs across independent lineages. Fishes in light-poor environments often evolve “troglomorphic” traits, including reduction or loss of both pigment and eyes. Here, we investigate the genomic basis of trait loss in a blind and depigmented African cichlid, Lamprologus lethops, and explore evolutionary forces (selection and drift) that may have contributed to these losses. This species, the only known blind cichlid, is endemic to the lower Congo River. Available evidence suggests that it inhabits deep, low-light habitats. Using genome sequencing, we show that genes related to eye formation and pigmentation, as well as other traits associated with troglomorphism, accumulated inactivating mutations rapidly after speciation. A number of the genes affected in L. lethops are also implicated in troglomorphic phenotypes in Mexican cavefish (Astyanax mexicanus) and other species. Analysis of heterozygosity patterns across the genome indicates that L. lethops underwent a significant population bottleneck roughly 1 Ma, after which effective population sizes remained low. Branch-length tests on a subset of genes with inactivating mutations show little evidence of directional selection; however, low overall heterozygosity may reduce statistical power to detect such signals. Overall, genome-wide patterns suggest that accelerated genetic drift from a severe bottleneck, perhaps aided by directional selection for the loss of physiologically expensive traits, caused inactivating mutations to fix rapidly in this species.


Published in Genome Biology and Evolution, Volume 12, Issue 8, August 2020, pp. 1392–1406, by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution. Available via doi: 10.1093/gbe/evaa144.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (,which permits noncommercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.