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Substitution patterns are GC-biased in divergent sequences across the metazoans.


The fastest-evolving regions in the human and chimpanzee genomes show a remarkable excess of weak (A,T) to strong (G,C) nucleotide substitutions since divergence from their common ancestor. We investigated the phylogenetic extent and possible causes of this weak to strong (W → S) bias in divergent sequences (BDS) using recently sequenced genomes and recombination maps from eight trios of eukaryotic species. To quantify evidence for BDS, we inferred substitution histories using an efficient maximum likelihood approach with a context-dependent evolutionary model. We then annotated all lineage-specific substitutions in terms of W → S bias and density on the chromosomes. Finally, we used the inferred substitutions to calculate a BDS score-a log odds ratio between substitution type and density-and assessed its statistical significance with Fisher's exact test. Applying this approach, we found significant BDS in the coding and noncoding sequence of human, mouse, dog, stickleback, fruit fly, and worm. We also observed a significant lack of W → S BDS in chicken and yeast. The BDS score varies between species and across the chromosomes within each species. It is most strongly correlated with different genomic features in different species, but a strong correlation with recombination rates is found in several species. Our results demonstrate that a W → S substitution bias in fast-evolving sequences is a widespread phenomenon. The patterns of BDS observed suggest that a recombination-associated process, such as GC-biased gene conversion, is involved in the production of the bias in many species, but the strength of the BDS likely depends on many factors, including genome stability, variability in recombination rate over time and across the genome, the frequency of meiosis, and the amount of outcrossing in each species.

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