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Mol Biol Evol. 2003 May;20(5):665-73. Epub 2003 Apr 2.

Selection at linked sites in the partial selfer Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, USA.


Natural selection can produce a correlation between local recombination rates and levels of neutral DNA polymorphism as a consequence of genetic hitchhiking and background selection. Theory suggests that selection at linked sites should affect patterns of neutral variation in partially selfing populations more dramatically than in outcrossing populations. However, empirical investigations of selection at linked sites have focused primarily on outcrossing species. To assess the potential role of selection as a determinant of neutral polymorphism in the context of partial self-fertilization, we conducted a multivariate analysis of single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) density throughout the genome of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. We based the analysis on a published SNP data set and partitioned the genome into windows to calculate SNP densities, recombination rates, and gene densities across all six chromosomes. Our analyses identify a strong, positive correlation between recombination rate and neutral polymorphism (as estimated by noncoding SNP density) across the genome of C. elegans. Furthermore, we find that levels of neutral polymorphism are lower in gene-dense regions than in gene-poor regions in some analyses. Analyses incorporating local estimates of divergence between C. elegans and C. briggsae indicate that a mutational explanation alone is unlikely to explain the observed patterns. Consequently, we interpret these findings as evidence that natural selection shapes genome-wide patterns of neutral polymorphism in C. elegans. Our study provides the first demonstration of such an effect in a partially selfing animal. Explicit models of genetic hitchhiking and background selection can each adequately describe the relationship between recombination rate and SNP density, but only when they incorporate selfing rate. Clarification of the relative roles of genetic hitchhiking and background selection in C. elegans awaits the development of specific theoretical predictions that account for partial self-fertilization and biased sex ratios.

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