Main content area

Rates and patterns of chloroplast DNA evolution

Clegg, M.T., Gaut, B.S., Learn, G.H. Jr., Morton, B.R.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 1994 v.91 no.15 pp. 6795-6801
ribulose-bisphosphate carboxylase, structural genes, genetic code, evolution, chloroplast DNA, genomics, introns, chloroplasts
The chloroplast genome (cpDNA) of plants has been a focus of research in plant molecular evolution and systematics. Several features of this genome have facilitated molecular evolutionary analyses. First, the genome is small and constitutes an abundant component of cellular DNA. Second, the chloroplast genome has been extensively characterized at the molecular level providing the basic information to support comparative evolutionary research. And third, rates of nucleotide substitution are relatively slow and therefore provide the appropriate window of resolution to study plant phylogeny at deep levels of evolution. Despite a conservative rate of evolution and a relatively stable gene content, comparative molecular analyses reveal complex patterns of mutational change. Non-coding regions of cpDNA diverge through insertion/deletion changes that are sometimes site dependent. Coding genes exhibit different patterns of codon bias that appear to violate the equilibrium assumptions of some evolutionary models. Rates of molecular change often vary among plant families and orders in a manner that violates the assumption of a simple molecular clock. Finally, protein-coding genes exhibit patterns of amino acid change that appear to depend on protein structure, and these patterns may reveal subtle aspects of structure/function relationships. Only comparative studies of molecular sequences have the resolution to reveal this underlying complexity. A complete description of the complexity of molecular change is essential to a full understanding of the mechanisms of evolutionary change and in the formulation of realistic models of mutational processes.