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Open Access Research article

Assessing the evolutionary rate of positional orthologous genes in prokaryotes using synteny data

Frédéric Lemoine12, Olivier Lespinet1 and Bernard Labedan1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institut de Génétique et Microbiologie, CNRS UMR 8621, Bâtiment 400, Université Paris Sud XI, 91405 Orsay Cedex, France

2 Laboratoire de Recherche en Informatique, CNRS UMR 8623, Bâtiment 490, Université Paris Sud XI, 91405 Orsay Cedex, France

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:237  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-237

Published: 29 November 2007

Abstract

Background

Comparison of completely sequenced microbial genomes has revealed how fluid these genomes are. Detecting synteny blocks requires reliable methods to determining the orthologs among the whole set of homologs detected by exhaustive comparisons between each pair of completely sequenced genomes. This is a complex and difficult problem in the field of comparative genomics but will help to better understand the way prokaryotic genomes are evolving.

Results

We have developed a suite of programs that automate three essential steps to study conservation of gene order, and validated them with a set of 107 bacteria and archaea that cover the majority of the prokaryotic taxonomic space. We identified the whole set of shared homologs between two or more species and computed the evolutionary distance separating each pair of homologs. We applied two strategies to extract from the set of homologs a collection of valid orthologs shared by at least two genomes. The first computes the Reciprocal Smallest Distance (RSD) using the PAM distances separating pairs of homologs. The second method groups homologs in families and reconstructs each family's evolutionary tree, distinguishing bona fide orthologs as well as paralogs created after the last speciation event. Although the phylogenetic tree method often succeeds where RSD fails, the reverse could occasionally be true. Accordingly, we used the data obtained with either methods or their intersection to number the orthologs that are adjacent in for each pair of genomes, the Positional Orthologous Genes (POGs), and to further study their properties. Once all these synteny blocks have been detected, we showed that POGs are subject to more evolutionary constraints than orthologs outside synteny groups, whichever the taxonomic distance separating the compared organisms.

Conclusion

The suite of programs described in this paper allows a reliable detection of orthologs and is useful for evaluating gene order conservation in prokaryotes whichever their taxonomic distance. Thus, our approach will make easy the rapid identification of POGS in the next few years as we are expecting to be inundated with thousands of completely sequenced microbial genomes.