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Open Access Research article

Duplicated genes evolve slower than singletons despite the initial rate increase

I King Jordan, Yuri I Wolf and Eugene V Koonin*

Author Affiliations

National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20894, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2004, 4:22  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-4-22

Published: 6 July 2004

Abstract

Background

Gene duplication is an important mechanism that can lead to the emergence of new functions during evolution. The impact of duplication on the mode of gene evolution has been the subject of several theoretical and empirical comparative-genomic studies. It has been shown that, shortly after the duplication, genes seem to experience a considerable relaxation of purifying selection.

Results

Here we demonstrate two opposite effects of gene duplication on evolutionary rates. Sequence comparisons between paralogs show that, in accord with previous observations, a substantial acceleration in the evolution of paralogs occurs after duplication, presumably due to relaxation of purifying selection. The effect of gene duplication on evolutionary rate was also assessed by sequence comparison between orthologs that have paralogs (duplicates) and those that do not (singletons). It is shown that, in eukaryotes, duplicates, on average, evolve significantly slower than singletons. Eukaryotic ortholog evolutionary rates for duplicates are also negatively correlated with the number of paralogs per gene and the strength of selection between paralogs. A tally of annotated gene functions shows that duplicates tend to be enriched for proteins with known functions, particularly those involved in signaling and related cellular processes; by contrast, singletons include an over-abundance of poorly characterized proteins.

Conclusions

These results suggest that whether or not a gene duplicate is retained by selection depends critically on the pre-existing functional utility of the protein encoded by the ancestral singleton. Duplicates of genes of a higher biological import, which are subject to strong functional constraints on the sequence, are retained relatively more often. Thus, the evolutionary trajectory of duplicated genes appears to be determined by two opposing trends, namely, the post-duplication rate acceleration and the generally slow evolutionary rate owing to the high level of functional constraints.