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Genetics. Jan 1999; 151(1): 239–249.
PMCID: PMC1460462

Natural selection on synonymous sites is correlated with gene length and recombination in Drosophila.


Evolutionary analysis of codon bias in Drosophila indicates that synonymous mutations are not neutral, but rather are subject to weak selection at the translation level. Here we show that the effectiveness of natural selection on synonymous sites is strongly correlated with the rate of recombination, in accord with the nearly neutral hypothesis. This correlation, however, is apparent only in genes encoding short proteins. Long coding regions have both a lower codon bias and higher synonymous substitution rates, suggesting that they are affected less efficiently by selection. Therefore, both the length of the coding region and the recombination rate modulate codon bias. In addition, the data indicate that selection coefficients for synonymous mutations must vary by a minimum of one or two orders of magnitude. Two hypotheses are proposed to explain the relationship among the coding region length, the codon bias, and the synonymous divergence and polymorphism levels across the range of recombination rates in Drosophila. The first hypothesis is that selection coefficients on synonymous mutations are inversely related to the total length of the coding region. The second hypothesis proposes that interference among synonymous mutations reduces the efficacy of selection on these mutations. We investigated this second hypothesis by carrying out forward simulations of weakly selected mutations in model populations. These simulations show that even with realistic recombination rates, this interference, which we call the "small-scale" Hill-Robertson effect, can have a moderately strong influence on codon bias.

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