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Nature. 1993 Apr 22;362(6422):745-7.

Male-driven evolution of DNA sequences.

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Center for Demographic and Population Genetics, University of Texas, Houston 77225.


It is commonly believed that the mutation rate is much higher in the human male germ line than in the female germ line because the number of germ-cell divisions per generation is much larger in males than in females. But direct estimation of mutation rates is difficult, relying mainly on sex-linked genetic diseases, so the ratio (alpha m) of male to female mutation rates is not clear. It has been noted that if alpha m is very large, then the rate of synonymous substitution in X-linked genes should be only 2/3 of that in autosomal genes, and comparison of human and rodent genes supported this prediction. As the number of X-linked genes used in the study was small and the X-linked and autosomal sequences were non-homologous, and given that the synonymous rate varies among genes, we sequenced the last intron (approximately 1 kb) of the Y-linked and X-linked zinc-finger-protein genes (ZFY and ZFX) in humans, orang-utans, baboons and squirrel monkeys. The ratio Y/X of the substitution rate in the Y-linked intron to that in the X-linked intron is approximately 2.3, which is close to that estimated from synonymous rates in the ZFY and ZFX genes and implies alpha m approximately 6. This estimate of alpha m supports the view that the evolution of DNA sequences in higher primates is male-driven. It is, however, much lower than the previous estimate and therefore raises a number of issues.

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