In most studies of molecular evolution, the nucleotide base at a site is assumed to change with the apparent rate under functional constraint, and the comparison of base changes between homologous genes is thought to yield the evolutionary distance corresponding to the site-average change rate multiplied by the divergence time. However, this view is not sufficiently successful in estimating the divergence time of species, but mostly results in the construction of tree topology without a time-scale. In the present paper, this problem is investigated theoretically by considering that observed base changes are the results of comparing the survivals through selection of mutated bases. In the case of weak selection, the time course of base changes due to mutation and selection can be obtained analytically, leading to a theoretical equation showing how the selection has influence on the evolutionary distance estimated from the enumeration of base changes. This result provides a new method for estimating the divergence time more accurately from the observed base changes by evaluating both the strength of selection and the mutation rate. The validity of this method is verified by analysing the base changes observed at the third codon positions of amino acid residues with four-fold codon degeneracy in the protein genes of mammalian mitochondria; i.e. the ratios of estimated divergence times are fairly well consistent with a series of fossil records of mammals. Throughout this analysis, it is also suggested that the mutation rates in mitochondrial genomes are almost the same in different lineages of mammals and that the lineage-specific base-change rates indicated previously are due to the selection probably arising from the preference of transfer RNAs to codons.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Statistics and Probability
- Modelling and Simulation
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Applied Mathematics