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Genetics. Dec 2003; 165(4): 1793–1803.
PMCID: PMC1462873

The structure and early evolution of recently arisen gene duplicates in the Caenorhabditis elegans genome.


The significance of gene duplication in provisioning raw materials for the evolution of genomic diversity is widely recognized, but the early evolutionary dynamics of duplicate genes remain obscure. To elucidate the structural characteristics of newly arisen gene duplicates at infancy and their subsequent evolutionary properties, we analyzed gene pairs with < or =10% divergence at synonymous sites within the genome of Caenorhabditis elegans. Structural heterogeneity between duplicate copies is present very early in their evolutionary history and is maintained over longer evolutionary timescales, suggesting that duplications across gene boundaries in conjunction with shuffling events have at least as much potential to contribute to long-term evolution as do fully redundant (complete) duplicates. The median duplication span of 1.4 kb falls short of the average gene length in C. elegans (2.5 kb), suggesting that partial gene duplications are frequent. Most gene duplicates reside close to the parent copy at inception, often as tandem inverted loci, and appear to disperse in the genome as they age, as a result of reduced survivorship of duplicates located in proximity to the ancestral copy. We propose that illegitimate recombination events leading to inverted duplications play a disproportionately large role in gene duplication within this genome in comparison with other mechanisms.

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