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Evolutionary rate patterns of the Gibberellin pathway genes

Yan-hua Yang12, Fu-min Zhang1 and Song Ge12*

Author Affiliations

1 State Key Laboratory of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, PR China

2 Graduate University, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100039, PR China

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:206  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-206

Published: 18 August 2009



Analysis of molecular evolutionary patterns of different genes within metabolic pathways allows us to determine whether these genes are subject to equivalent evolutionary forces and how natural selection shapes the evolution of proteins in an interacting system. Although previous studies found that upstream genes in the pathway evolved more slowly than downstream genes, the correlation between evolutionary rate and position of the genes in metabolic pathways as well as its implications in molecular evolution are still less understood.


We sequenced and characterized 7 core structural genes of the gibberellin biosynthetic pathway from 8 representative species of the rice tribe (Oryzeae) to address alternative hypotheses regarding evolutionary rates and patterns of metabolic pathway genes. We have detected significant rate heterogeneity among 7 GA pathway genes for both synonymous and nonsynonymous sites. Such rate variation is mostly likely attributed to differences of selection intensity rather than differential mutation pressures on the genes. Unlike previous argument that downstream genes in metabolic pathways would evolve more slowly than upstream genes, the downstream genes in the GA pathway did not exhibited the elevated substitution rate and instead, the genes that encode either the enzyme at the branch point (GA20ox) or enzymes catalyzing multiple steps (KO, KAO and GA3ox) in the pathway had the lowest evolutionary rates due to strong purifying selection. Our branch and codon models failed to detect signature of positive selection for any lineage and codon of the GA pathway genes.


This study suggests that significant heterogeneity of evolutionary rate of the GA pathway genes is mainly ascribed to differential constraint relaxation rather than the positive selection and supports the pathway flux theory that predicts that natural selection primarily targets enzymes that have the greatest control on fluxes.