Epistasis as the primary factor in molecular evolution

Nature
Michael S BreenFyodor A Kondrashov

Abstract

The main forces directing long-term molecular evolution remain obscure. A sizable fraction of amino-acid substitutions seem to be fixed by positive selection, but it is unclear to what degree long-term protein evolution is constrained by epistasis, that is, instances when substitutions that are accepted in one genotype are deleterious in another. Here we obtain a quantitative estimate of the prevalence of epistasis in long-term protein evolution by relating data on amino-acid usage in 14 organelle proteins and 2 nuclear-encoded proteins to their rates of short-term evolution. We studied multiple alignments of at least 1,000 orthologues for each of these 16 proteins from species from a diverse phylogenetic background and found that an average site contained approximately eight different amino acids. Thus, without epistasis an average site should accept two-fifths of all possible amino acids, and the average rate of amino-acid substitutions should therefore be about three-fifths lower than the rate of neutral evolution. However, we found that the measured rate of amino-acid substitution in recent evolution is 20 times lower than the rate of neutral evolution and an order of magnitude lower than that expected in the absence of epi...Continue Reading

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Related Concepts

Cell Nucleus
Deviation, Epistatic
Phylogeny
Determination, Sequence Homology
Evolution, Molecular
Computational Molecular Biology
Amino Acid Substitution
Genetic Fitness
Epistasis, Genetic
Biological Evolution

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