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Mol Biol Evol. 2001 Dec;18(12):2260-9.

An investigation of the cause of low variability on the fourth chromosome of Drosophila melanogaster.

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Institute of Genetics, University of Nottingham, Queens Medical Centre, United Kingdom.


The fourth chromosome of Drosophila melanogaster lacks meiotic recombination. There is also a lack of nucleotide variation on the chromosome. This lack of variation could have been caused by a recent selective sweep, by background selection, or by a combination of these two forces. It should be possible to differentiate between the two mechanisms by studying the frequencies of polymorphic sites on the chromosome: a selective sweep should have resulted in low-frequency polymorphisms, whereas higher frequency polymorphisms would indicate the action of background selection. We have analyzed retrotransposable element insertions on the fourth chromosome in 11 strains of D. melanogaster. The polymorphisms found have a range of frequencies, with the presence of some insertions with high frequencies suggesting that the lack of variation is the result of background selection. We summarize the data using two statistics: the number of sites shared by more than one of the sample of 11 chromosomes (internal sites) and the mean number of transposable element differences in presence or absence between the sampled chromosomes. Simulations indicate that a selective sweep occurring more than 15,000 (0.03N) generations ago cannot be ruled out from the number of internal sites, although the number of differences between the chromosomes suggests either background selection or a sweep occurring more than 60,000 (0.12N) generations ago. Our results show no homoplasies and are thus consistent with no recombination occurring on the chromosome. The difficulties of distinguishing between the models using polymorphism data are discussed.

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