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Measuring the prevalence of regional mutation rates: an analysis of silent substitutions in mammals, fungi, and insects

Aleah K Fox1, Brian B Tuch2 and Jeffrey H Chuang1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA

2 Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics and Department of Microbiology & Immunology, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143-2200, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:186  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-186

Published: 27 June 2008



The patterns of mutation vary both within and across genomes. It has been shown for a few mammals that mutation rates vary within the genome, while for unknown reasons, the sensu stricto yeasts have uniform rates instead. The generality of these observations has been unknown. Here we examine silent site substitutions in a more expansive set (20 mammals, 27 fungi, 4 insects) to determine why some genomes demonstrate this mosaic distribution and why others are uniform.


We applied several intragene and intergene correlation tests to measure regional substitution patterns. Assuming that silent sites are a reasonable approximation to neutrally mutating sequence, our results show that all multicellular eukaryotes exhibit mutational heterogeneity. In striking contrast, all fungi are mutationally uniform – with the exception of three Candida species: C. albicans, C. dubliniensis, and C. tropicalis. We speculate that aspects of replication timing may be responsible for distinguishing these species. Our analysis also reveals classes of genes whose silent sites behave anomalously with respect to the mutational background in many species, indicating prevalent selective pressures. Genes associated with nucleotide binding or gene regulation have consistently low silent substitution rates in every mammalian species, as well as multiple fungi. On the other hand, receptor genes repeatedly exhibit high silent substitution rates, suggesting they have been influenced by diversifying selection.


Our findings provide a framework for understanding the regional mutational properties of eukaryotes, revealing a sharp difference between fungi and multicellular species. They also elucidate common selective pressures acting on eukaryotic silent sites, with frequent evidence for both purifying and diversifying selection.