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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Nov 1;102(44):15936-41. Epub 2005 Oct 19.

Evolutionary population genetics of promoters: predicting binding sites and functional phylogenies.

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  • 1Institut für Theoretische Physik, Universität zu Köln, Zülpicherstrasse 77, 50937 Cologne, Germany.


We study the evolution of transcription factor-binding sites in prokaryotes, using an empirically grounded model with point mutations and genetic drift. Selection acts on the site sequence via its binding affinity to the corresponding transcription factor. Calibrating the model with populations of functional binding sites, we verify this form of selection and show that typical sites are under substantial selection pressure for functionality: for cAMP response protein sites in Escherichia coli, the product of fitness difference and effective population size takes values 2NDeltaF of order 10. We apply this model to cross-species comparisons of binding sites in bacteria and obtain a prediction method for binding sites that uses evolutionary information in a quantitative way. At the same time, this method predicts the functional histories of orthologous sites in a phylogeny, evaluating the likelihood for conservation or loss or gain of function during evolution. We have performed, as an example, a cross-species analysis of E. coli, Salmonella typhimurium, and Yersinia pseudotuberculosis. Detailed lists of predicted sites and their functional phylogenies are available.

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