Covariation of GC content and the silent site substitution rate in rodents: implications for methodology and for the evolution of isochores

L D Hurst, E J B Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

41 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Many attempts to test selectionist and neutralist models employ estimates of synonymous (Ks) and non-synonymous (Ka) substitution rates of orthologous genes. For example, a stronger Ka-Ks correlation than expected under neutrality has been argued to indicate a role for selection and the absence of a Ks-GC4 correlation has been argued to be inconsistent with neutral models for isochore evolution. However, both of these results, we have shown previously, are sensitive to the method by which Ka and Ks are estimated. Using a maximum likelihood (ML) estimator (GY94) we found a positive correlation between Ks and GC4 and only a weak correlation between Ka and Ks, lower than expected under neutral expectations. This ML method is computationally slow. Recently, a new ad hoc approximation of this ML method has been provided (YN00). This is effectively an extension of Li's protocol but that also allows for codon usage bias. This method is computationally near-instantaneous and therefore potentially of great utility for analysis of large datasets. Here we ask whether this method might have such applicability. To this end we ask whether it too recovers the two unusual results. We report that when the ML and earlier ad hoc methods disagree, YN00 recovers the results described by the ML methods, i.e. a positive correlation between GC4 and Ks and only a weak correlation between Ks and Ka. If the ML method can be trusted, then YN00 can also be considered an adequately reliable method for analysis of large datasets. Assuming this to be so we also analyze further the patterns. We show, for example, that the positive correlation between GC4 and Ks is probably in part a mutational bias, there being more methyl induced CpG --> TpG mutations in GC rich regions. As regards the evolution of isochores, it seems inappropriate to use the claimed lack of a correlation between GC and Ks as definitive evidence either against or for any model. If the positive correlation is real then, we argue, this is hard to reconcile with the biased gene conversion model for isochore formation as this predicts a negative correlation. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-114
Number of pages8
JournalGene
Volume261
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2000

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