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J Mol Evol. 2001 Feb;52(2):144-56.

A survey of the molecular evolutionary dynamics of twenty-five multigene families from four grass taxa.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 321 Steinhaus Hall, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697-2525, USA.


We surveyed the molecular evolutionary characteristics of 25 plant gene families, with the goal of better understanding general processes in plant gene family evolution. The survey was based on 247 GenBank sequences representing four grass species (maize, rice, wheat, and barley). For each gene family, orthology and paralogy relationships were uncertain. Recognizing this uncertainty, we characterized the molecular evolution of each gene family in four ways. First, we calculated the ratio of nonsynonymous to synonymous substitutions (d(N)/d(S)) both on branches of gene phylogenies and across codons. Our results indicated that the d(N)/d(S) ratio was statistically heterogeneous across branches in 17 of 25 (68%) gene families. The vast majority of d(N)/d(S) estimates were <<1.0, suggestive of selective constraint on amino acid replacements, and no estimates were >1.0, either across phylogenetic lineages or across codons. Second, we tested separately for nonsynonymous and synonymous molecular clocks. Sixty-eight percent of gene families rejected a nonsynonymous molecular clock, and 52% of gene families rejected a synonymous molecular clock. Thus, most gene families in this study deviated from clock-like evolution at either synonymous or nonsynonymous sites. Third, we calculated the effective number of codons and the proportion of G+C synonymous sites for each sequence in each gene family. One or both quantities vary significantly within 18 of 25 gene families. Finally, we tested for gene conversion, and only six gene families provided evidence of gene conversion events. Altogether, evolution for these 25 gene families is marked by selective constraint that varies among gene family members, a lack of molecular clock at both synonymous and nonsynonymous sites, and substantial variation in codon usage.

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