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Nat Genet. 2006 Jul;38(7):819-23. Epub 2006 Jun 11.

Parallel adaptive origins of digestive RNases in Asian and African leaf monkeys.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, 1075 Natural Science Building, 830 North University Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.


Similar morphological or physiological changes occurring in multiple evolutionary lineages are not uncommon. Such parallel changes are believed to be adaptive, because a complex character is unlikely to originate more than once by chance. However, the occurrence of adaptive parallel amino acid substitutions is debated. Here I propose four requirements for establishing adaptive parallel evolution at the protein sequence level and use these criteria to demonstrate such a case. I report that the gene encoding pancreatic ribonuclease was duplicated independently in Asian and African leaf-eating monkeys. Statistical analyses of DNA sequences, functional assays of reconstructed ancestral proteins and site-directed mutagenesis show that the new genes acquired enhanced digestive efficiencies through parallel amino acid replacements driven by darwinian selection. They also lost a non-digestive function independently, under a relaxed selective constraint. These results demonstrate that despite the overall stochasticity, even molecular evolution has a certain degree of repeatability and predictability under the pressures of natural selection.

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