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Stability along with Extreme Variability in Core Genome Evolution

Wolf, Yuri I., Snir, Sagi, Koonin, Eugene V.
Genome biology and evolution 2013 v.5 no.7 pp. 1393-1402
genes, models, phylogeny, variance
The shape of the distribution of evolutionary distances between orthologous genes in pairs of closely related genomes is universal throughout the entire range of cellular life forms. The near invariance of this distribution across billions of years of evolution can be accounted for by the Universal Pace Maker (UPM) model of genome evolution that yields a significantly better fit to the phylogenetic data than the Molecular Clock (MC) model. Unlike the MC, the UPM model does not assume constant gene-specific evolutionary rates but rather postulates that, in each evolving lineage, the evolutionary rates of all genes change (approximately) in unison although the pacemakers of different lineages are not necessarily synchronized. Here, we dissect the nearly constant evolutionary rate distribution by comparing the genome-wide relative rates of evolution of individual genes in pairs or triplets of closely related genomes from diverse bacterial and archaeal taxa. We show that, although the gene-specific relative rate is an important feature of genome evolution that explains more than half of the variance of the evolutionary distances, the ranges of relative rate variability are extremely broad even for universal genes. Because of this high variance, the gene-specific rate is a poor predictor of the conservation rank for any gene in any particular lineage.