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Methods Mol Biol. 2012;856:29-51. doi: 10.1007/978-1-61779-585-5_2.

Modeling gene family evolution and reconciling phylogenetic discord.

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UMR CNRS 5558, LBBE, "Biometrie et Biologie Evolutive" UCB Lyon 1, Villeurbanne, France.


Large-scale databases are available that contain homologous gene families constructed from hundreds of complete genome sequences from across the three domains of life. Here, we discuss the approaches of increasing complexity aimed at extracting information on the pattern and process of gene family evolution from such datasets. In particular, we consider the models that invoke processes of gene birth (duplication and transfer) and death (loss) to explain the evolution of gene families. First, we review birth-and-death models of family size evolution and their implications in light of the universal features of family size distribution observed across different species and the three domains of life. Subsequently, we proceed to recent developments on models capable of more completely considering information in the sequences of homologous gene families through the probabilistic reconciliation of the phylogenetic histories of individual genes with the phylogenetic history of the genomes in which they have resided. To illustrate the methods and results presented, we use data from the HOGENOM database, demonstrating that the distribution of homologous gene family sizes in the genomes of the eukaryota, archaea, and bacteria exhibits remarkably similar shapes. We show that these distributions are best described by models of gene family size evolution, where for individual genes the death (loss) rate is larger than the birth (duplication and transfer) rate but new families are continually supplied to the genome by a process of origination. Finally, we use probabilistic reconciliation methods to take into consideration additional information from gene phylogenies, and find that, for prokaryotes, the majority of birth events are the result of transfer.

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