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J Mol Evol. 2004 Aug;59(2):177-89.

Gene conversion and functional divergence in the beta-globin gene family.

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Department of Biology, University College London, Darwin Building, Gower Street, WC1E 6BT, London, England.


Different models of gene family evolution have been proposed to explain the mechanism whereby gene copies created by gene duplications are maintained and diverge in function. Ohta proposed a model which predicts a burst of nonsynonymous substitutions following gene duplication and the preservation of duplicates through positive selection. An alternative model, the duplication-degeneration-complementation (DDC) model, does not explicitly require the action of positive Darwinian selection for the maintenance of duplicated gene copies, although purifying selection is assumed to continue to act on both copies. A potential outcome of the DDC model is heterogeneity in purifying selection among the gene copies, due to partitioning of subfunctions which complement each other. By using the d(N)/ d(S) (omega) rate ratio to measure selection pressure, we can distinguish between these two very different evolutionary scenarios. In this study we investigated these scenarios in the beta-globin family of genes, a textbook example of evolution by gene duplication. We assembled a comprehensive dataset of 72 vertebrate beta-globin sequences. The estimated phylogeny suggested multiple gene duplication and gene conversion events. By using different programs to detect recombination, we confirmed several cases of gene conversion and detected two new cases. We tested evolutionary scenarios derived from Ohta's model and the DDC model by examining selective pressures along lineages in a phylogeny of beta-globin genes in eutherian mammals. We did not find significant evidence for an increase in the omega ratio following major duplication events in this family. However, one exception to this pattern was the duplication of gamma-globin in simian primates, after which a few sites were identified to be under positive selection. Overall, our results suggest that following gene duplications, paralogous copies of beta-globin genes evolved under a nonepisodic process of functional divergence.

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