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Mol Biol Evol. 2005 Mar;22(3):506-19. Epub 2004 Nov 3.

Molecular population genetics and the search for adaptive evolution in plants.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, USA.

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  • Mol Biol Evol. 2005 Apr;22(4):1158.


The first papers on plant molecular population genetics were published approximately 10 years ago. Since that time, well over 50 additional studies of plant nucleotide polymorphism have been published, and many of these studies focused on detecting the signature of balancing or positive selection at a locus. In this review, we discuss some of the theoretical and statistical issues surrounding the detection of selection, with focus on plant populations, and we also summarize the empirical plant molecular population genetics literature. At face value, the literature suggests that a history of balancing or positive selection in plant genes is rampant. In two well-studied taxa (maize and Arabidopsis) over 20% of studied genes have been interpreted as containing the signature of selection. We argue that this is probably an overstatement of the prevalence of natural selection in plant genomes, for two reasons. First, demographic effects are difficult to incorporate and have generally not been well integrated into the plant population genetics literature. Second, the genes studied to date are not a random sample, so selected genes may be overrepresented. The next generation of studies in plant molecular population genetics requires additional sampling of local populations, explicit comparisons among loci, and improved theoretical methods to control for demography. Eventually, candidate loci should be confirmed by explicit consideration of phenotypic effects.

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