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Genetica. 1998;102-103(1-6):369-82.

The molecular clock revisited: the rate of synonymous vs. replacement change in Drosophila.

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Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


Rates of synonymous and nonsynonymous substitution were investigated for 24 genes in three Drosophila species, D. pseudoobscura, D. subobscura, and D. melanogaster. D. pseudoobscura and D. subobscura, two distantly related members of the obscura clade, differ on average by 0.29 synonymous nucleotide substitutions per site. D. melanogaster differs from the two obscura species by an average of 0.81 synonymous substitutions per site. Using a method developed by Gillespie, we investigated the variance to mean ratio, or Index of Dispersion, R, of substitutions along the three species' branches to test the fundamental prediction of the neutral theory of molecular evolution, E(R) = 1. For nonsynonymous substitutions, the average R, Ra is 1.6, which is not significantly different from the neutral theory prediction. Only 5 of the 24 genes had significantly large Ra valves, and 12 of the genes had Ra estimates of less than one. In contrast, the Index of Dispersion for synonymous substitutions was significantly large for 12 of the 24 genes, with an average of R(s) = 4.4, also statistically significant. These findings contrast with results for mammals, which showed overdispersion of nonsynonymous substitutions, but not of synonymous substitutions. Weak selection acting to maintain codon bias in Drosophila, but not in mammals, may be important in explaining the high variance in the rate of synonymous substitutions in this group of organisms.

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