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Genetics. 2003 Dec;165(4):1843-51.

Selective constraints on intron evolution in Drosophila.

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Department of Biology II, Section of Evolutionary Biology, University of Munich (LMU), Munich 80333, Germany.


Intron sizes show an asymmetrical distribution in a number of organisms, with a large number of "short" introns clustered around a minimal intron length and a much broader distribution of longer introns. In Drosophila melanogaster, the short intron class is centered around 61 bp. The narrow length distribution suggests that natural selection may play a role in maintaining intron size. A comparison of 15 orthologous introns among species of the D. melanogaster subgroup indicates that, in general, short introns are not under greater DNA sequence or length constraints than long introns. There is a bias toward deletions in all introns (deletion/insertion ratio is 1.66), and the vast majority of indels are of short length (<10 bp). Indels occurring on the internal branches of the phylogenetic tree are significantly longer than those occurring on the terminal branches. These results are consistent with a compensatory model of intron length evolution in which slightly deleterious short deletions are frequently fixed within species by genetic drift, and relatively rare larger insertions that restore intron length are fixed by positive selection. A comparison of paralogous introns shared among duplicated genes suggests that length constraints differ between introns within the same gene. The janusA, janusB, and ocnus genes share two short introns derived from a common ancestor. The first of these introns shows significantly fewer indels than the second intron, although the two introns show a comparable number of substitutions. This indicates that intron-specific selective constraints have been maintained following gene duplication, which preceded the divergence of the D. melanogaster species subgroup.

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