Royal Society Publishing

The evolution of concerted evolution

L.D. Hurst, N.G.C. Smith


Concerted evolution is a consequence of processes that convert copies of a gene in a multigene family into the same copy. Here we ask whether this homogenization may be adaptive. Analysis of a modifier of homogenization reveals (1) that the trait is most likely to spread if interactions between deleterious mutations are not strongly synergistic; (2) that selection on the modifier is of the order of the mutation rate, hence the modifier is most likely to be favoured by selection when the species has a large effective population size and/or if the modifier affects many genes simultaneously; and (3) that linkage between the genes in the family, and between these genes and the modifier, makes invasion of the modifier easier, suggesting that selection may favour multigene families being in clustered arrays. It follows from the first conclusion that genes for which mutations may often be dominant or semi–dominant should undergo concerted evolution more commonly than others. By analysis of the mouse knockout database, we show that mutations affecting growth–related genes are more commonly associated with dominant lethality than expected by chance. We predict then that selection will favour homogenization of such genes, and possibly others that are significantly dosage dependent, more often than it favours homogenization in other genes. The first condition is almost the opposite of that required for the maintenance of sexual reproduction according to the mutation–deterministic theory. The analysis here therefore suggests that sexual organisms can simultaneously minimize both the effects of deleterious, strongly synergistically, interacting mutations and those that interact either weakly synergistically, multiplicatively, or antagonistically, assuming the latter class belong to a multicopy gene family. Recombination and an absence of homogenization are efficient in purging deleterious mutations in the former class, homogenization and an absence of recombination are efficient at minimizing the costs imposed by the latter classes.

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