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Open Access Research article

Comparisons of mutation rate variation at genome-wide microsatellites: evolutionary insights from two cultivated rice and their wild relatives

Li-zhi Gao1* and Hongyan Xu2

Author Affiliations

1 Plant Germplasm and Genomics Center, Kunming Institute of Botany, The Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming 650204, P. R. China

2 Department of Biostatistics, Medical College of Georgia, 1120 15th St., Augusta, GA 30912, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:11  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-11

Published: 16 January 2008



Mutation rate (μ) per generation per locus is an important parameter in the models of population genetics. Studies on mutation rate and its variation are of significance to elucidate the extent and distribution of genetic variation, further infer evolutionary relationships among closely related species, and deeply understand genetic variation of genomes. However, patterns of rate variation of microsatellite loci are still poorly understood in plant species. Furthermore, how their mutation rates vary in di-, tri-, and tetra-nucleotide repeats within the species is largely uninvestigated across related plant genomes.


Genome-wide variation of mutation rates was first investigated by means of the composite population parameter θ (θ = 4Nμ, where N is the effective population size and μ is the mutation rate per locus per generation) in four subspecies of Asian cultivated rice O. sativa and its three related species, O. rufipogon, O. glaberrima, and O. officinalis. On the basis of three data sets of microsatellite allele frequencies throughout the genome, population mutation rate (θ) was estimated for each locus. Our results reveal that the variation of population mutation rates at microsatellites within each studied species or subspecies of cultivated rice can be approximated with a gamma distribution. The mean population mutation rates of microsatellites do not significantly differ in motifs of di-, tri-, and tetra-nucleotide repeats for the studied rice species. The shape parameter was also estimated for each subspecies of rice as well as other related rice species. Of them, different subspecies of O. sativa possesses similar shape parameters (α) of the gamma distribution, while other species extensively vary in their population mutation rates.


Through the analysis of genome-wide microsatellite data, the population mutation rate can be approximately fitted with a gamma distribution in most of the studied species. In general, different population histories occurred along different lineages may result in the observed variation of population mutation rates at microsatellites among the studied Oryza species.