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PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42119. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042119. Epub 2012 Aug 10.

Inference of selection based on temporal genetic differentiation in the study of highly polymorphic multigene families.

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School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, United Kingdom.


The co-evolutionary arms race between host immune genes and parasite virulence genes is known as Red Queen dynamics. Temporal fluctuations in allele frequencies, or the 'turnover' of alleles at immune genes, are concordant with predictions of the Red Queen hypothesis. Such observations are often taken as evidence of host-parasite co-evolution. Here, we use computer simulations of the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) of guppies (Poecilia reticulata) to study the turnover rate of alleles (temporal genetic differentiation, G'(ST)). Temporal fluctuations in MHC allele frequencies can be ≥≤order of magnitude larger than changes observed at neutral loci. Although such large fluctuations in the MHC are consistent with Red Queen dynamics, simulations show that other demographic and population genetic processes can account for this observation, these include: (1) overdominant selection, (2) fluctuating population size within a metapopulation, and (3) the number of novel MHC alleles introduced by immigrants when there are multiple duplicated genes. Synergy between these forces combined with migration rate and the effective population size can drive the rapid turnover in MHC alleles. We posit that rapid allelic turnover is an inherent property of highly polymorphic multigene families and that it cannot be taken as evidence of Red Queen dynamics. Furthermore, combining temporal samples in spatial F(ST) outlier analysis may obscure the signal of selection.

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