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Genome Biol Evol. 2011;3:15-22. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evq081. Epub 2010 Dec 6.

Functional conservation of nucleosome formation selectively biases presumably neutral molecular variation in yeast genomes.


One prominent pattern of mutational frequency, long appreciated in comparative genomics, is the bias of purine/pyrimidine conserving substitutions (transitions) over purine/pyrimidine altering substitutions (transversions). Traditionally, this transitional bias has been thought to be driven by the underlying rates of DNA mutation and/or repair. However, recent sequencing studies of mutation accumulation lines in model organisms demonstrate that substitutions generally do not accumulate at rates that would indicate a transitional bias. These observations have called into question a very basic assumption of molecular evolution; that naturally occurring patterns of molecular variation in noncoding regions accurately reflect the underlying processes of randomly accumulating neutral mutation in nuclear genomes. Here, in Saccharomyces yeasts, we report a very strong inverse association (r = -0.951, P < 0.004) between the genome-wide frequency of substitutions and their average energetic effect on nucleosome formation, as predicted by a structurally based energy model of DNA deformation around the nucleosome core. We find that transitions occurring at sites positioned nearest the nucleosome surface, which are believed to function most importantly in nucleosome formation, alter the deformation energy of DNA to the nucleosome core by only a fraction of the energy changes typical of most transversions. When we examined the same substitutions set against random background sequences as well as an existing study reporting substitutions arising in mutation accumulation lines of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, we failed to find a similar relationship. These results support the idea that natural selection acting to functionally conserve chromatin organization may contribute significantly to genome-wide transitional bias, even in noncoding regions. Because nucleosome core structure is highly conserved across eukaryotes, our observations may also help to further explain locally elevated transition bias at CpG islands, which are known to destabilize nucleosomes at vertebrate promoters.

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