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Genome Biol Evol. 2012;4(4):533-49. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evr113. Epub 2011 Nov 8.

Widespread polymorphism in the positions of stop codons in Drosophila melanogaster.

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  • 1Department of Evolution and Ecology, The University of California at Davis, CA, USA.


The mechanisms underlying evolutionary changes in protein length are poorly understood. Protein domains are lost and gained between species and must have arisen first as within-species polymorphisms. Here, we use Drosophila melanogaster population genomic data combined with between species divergence information to understand the evolutionary forces that generate and maintain polymorphisms causing changes in protein length in D. melanogaster. Specifically, we looked for protein length variations resulting from premature termination codons (PTCs) and stop codon losses (SCLs). We discovered that 438 genes contained polymorphisms resulting in truncation of the translated region (PTCs) and 119 genes contained polymorphisms predicted to lengthen the translated region (SCLs). Stop codon polymorphisms (SCPs) (especially PTCs) appear to be more deleterious than other polymorphisms, including protein amino acid changes. Genes harboring SCPs are in general less selectively constrained, more narrowly expressed, and enriched for dispensable biological functions. However, we also observed exceptional cases such as genes that have multiple independent SCPs, alleles that are shared between D. melanogaster and Drosophila simulans, and high-frequency alleles that cause extreme changes in gene length. SCPs likely have an important role in the evolution of these genes.

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