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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Comparing Patterns of Natural Selection across Species Using Selective Signatures


Comparing gene expression profiles over many different conditions has led to insights that were not obvious from single experiments. In the same way, comparing patterns of natural selection across a set of ecologically distinct species may extend what can be learned from individual genome-wide surveys. Toward this end, we show how variation in protein evolutionary rates, after correcting for genome-wide effects such as mutation rate and demographic factors, can be used to estimate the level and types of natural selection acting on genes across different species. We identify unusually rapidly and slowly evolving genes, relative to empirically derived genome-wide and gene family-specific background rates for 744 core protein families in 30 c-proteobacterial species. We describe the pattern of fast or slow evolution across species as the "selective signature" of a gene. Selective signatures represent a profile of selection across species that is predictive of gene function: pairs of genes with correlated selective signatures are more likely to share the same cellular function, and genes in the same pathway can evolve in concert. For example, glycolysis and phenylalanine metabolism genes evolve rapidly in Idiomarina loihiensis, mirroring an ecological shift in carbon source from sugars to amino acids. In a broader context, our results suggest that the genomic landscape is organized into functional modules even at the level of natural selection, and thus it may be easier than expected to understand the complex evolutionary pressures on a cell.

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