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Closely spaced clusters of tandemly duplicated genes (CTDGs) contribute to the diversity of many phenotypes, including chemosensation, snake venom, and animal body plans. CTDGs have traditionally been identified subjectively as genomic neighborhoods containing several gene duplicates in close proximity; however, CTDGs are often highly variable with respect to gene number, intergenic distance, and synteny. This lack of formal definition hampers the study of CTDG evolutionary dynamics and the discovery of novel CTDGs in the exponentially growing body of genomic data. To address this gap, we developed a novel homology-based algorithm, CTDGFinder, which formalizes and automates the identification of CTDGs by examining the physical distribution of individual members of families of duplicated genes across chromosomes. Application of CTDGFinder accurately identified CTDGs for many well-known gene clusters (e.g., Hox and beta-globin gene clusters) in the human, mouse and 20 other mammalian genomes. Differences between previously annotated gene clusters and our inferred CTDGs were due to the exclusion of nonhomologs that have historically been considered parts of specific gene clusters, the inclusion or absence of genes between the CTDGs and their corresponding gene clusters, and the splitting of certain gene clusters into distinct CTDGs. Examination of human genes showing tissue-specific enhancement of their expression by CTDGFinder identified members of several well-known gene clusters (e.g., cytochrome P450s and olfactory receptors) and revealed that they were unequally distributed across tissues. By formalizing and automating CTDG identification, CTDGFinder will facilitate understanding of CTDG evolutionary dynamics, their functional implications, and how they are associated with phenotypic diversity.
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