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ZPS: visualization of recent adaptive evolution of proteins

Sujay Chattopadhyay1*, Daniel E Dykhuizen2 and Evgeni V Sokurenko1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195 USA

2 Department of Biology, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40292 USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2007, 8:187  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-8-187

Published: 7 June 2007



Detection of adaptive amino acid changes in proteins under recent short-term selection is of great interest for researchers studying microevolutionary processes in microbial pathogens or any other biological species. However, independent occurrence of such point mutations within genetically diverse haplotypes makes it difficult to detect the selection footprint by using traditional molecular evolutionary analyses. The recently developed Zonal Phylogeny (ZP) has been shown to be a useful analytic tool for identifying the footprints of short-term positive selection. ZP separates protein-encoding genes into evolutionarily long-term (with silent diversity) and short-term (without silent diversity) categories, or zones, followed by statistical analysis to detect signs of positive selection in the short-term zone. However, successful broad application of ZP for analysis of large haplotype datasets requires automation of the relatively labor-intensive computational process.


Here we present Zonal Phylogeny Software (ZPS), an application that describes the distribution of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of synonymous (silent) and non-synonymous (replacement) nature along branches of the DNA tree for any given protein-coding gene locus. Based on this information, ZPS separates the protein variant haplotypes with silent variability (Primary zone) from those that have recently evolved from the Primary zone variants by amino acid changes (External zone). Further comparative analysis of mutational hot-spot frequencies and haplotype diversity between the two zones allows determination of whether the External zone haplotypes emerged under positive selection.


As a visualization tool, ZPS depicts the protein tree in a DNA tree, indicating the most parsimonious numbers of synonymous and non-synonymous changes along the branches of a maximum-likelihood based DNA tree, along with information on homoplasy, reversion and structural mutation hot-spots. Through zonal differentiation, ZPS allows detection of recent adaptive evolution via selection of advantageous structural mutations, even when the advantage conferred by such mutations is relatively short-term (as in the case of "source-sink" evolutionary dynamics, which may represent a major mode of virulence evolution in microbes).