Septins are a family of conserved filament-forming proteins that function in multiple cellular processes. The number of septin genes within an organism varies, and higher eukaryotes express many septin isoforms due to alternative splicing. It is unclear if different combinations of septin proteins in complex alter the polymers’ biophysical properties. We report that a duplication event within the CDC11 locus in Ashbya gossypii gave rise to two similar but distinct Cdc11 proteins: Cdc11a and Cdc1b. CDC11b transcription is developmentally regulated, producing different amounts of Cdc11a- and Cdc11b-complexes in the lifecycle of Ashbya gossypii. Deletion of either gene results in distinct cell polarity defects, suggesting non-overlapping functions. Cdc11a and Cdc11b complexes have differences in filament length and membrane-binding ability. Thus, septin subunit composition has functional consequences on filament properties and cell morphogenesis. Small sequence differences elicit distinct biophysical properties and cell functions of septins, illuminating how gene duplication could be a driving force for septin gene expansions seen throughout the tree of life.

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