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Mol Biol Evol. 2012 Feb;29(2):451-6. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msr266. Epub 2011 Oct 31.

Inconsistencies in estimating the age of HIV-1 subtypes due to heterotachy.

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Department of Pathology, University of California, San Diego, USA.


Rate heterogeneity among lineages is a common feature of molecular evolution, and it has long impeded our ability to accurately estimate the age of evolutionary divergence events. The development of relaxed molecular clocks, which model variable substitution rates among lineages, was intended to rectify this problem. Major subtypes of pandemic HIV-1 group M are thought to exemplify closely related lineages with different substitution rates. Here, we report that inferring the time of most recent common ancestor of all these subtypes in a single phylogeny under a single (relaxed) molecular clock produces significantly different dates for many of the subtypes than does analysis of each subtype on its own. We explore various methods to ameliorate this problem. We conclude that current molecular dating methods are inadequate for dealing with this type of substitution rate variation in HIV-1. Through simulation, we show that heterotachy causes root ages to be overestimated.

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