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Disparate evolution of paralogous introns in the Xdh gene of Drosophila.


Drosophila nuclear introns are commonly assumed to change according to a single rate of substitution, yet little is known about the evolution of these non-coding sequences. The hypothesis of a uniform substitution rate for introns seems to be at odds with recent findings that the nucleotide composition of introns varies at a scale unknown before, and that their base content variation is correlated with that of the adjacent exons. However, no direct attempt at comparing substitution rates in introns seems to have been addressed so far. We have studied the rate of nucleotide substitution over a region of the Xdh gene containing two adjacent short, constitutively spliced introns, in several species of Drosophila and related genera. The two introns differ significantly in base composition and substitution rate, with one intron evolving at least twice as fast as the other. In addition, the substitution pattern of the introns is positively associated with that of the surrounding coding regions, evidencing that the molecular evolution of these introns is impacted by the region in which they are embedded. The observed differences cannot be attributed to selection acting differently at the level of the secondary structure of the pre-mRNA. Rather, they are better accounted for by locally heterogeneous patterns of mutation.

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