The correlation between intron length and recombination in drosophila. Dynamic equilibrium between mutational and selective forces

Genetics. 2000 Nov;156(3):1175-90.


Intron length is negatively correlated with recombination in both Drosophila melanogaster and humans. This correlation is not likely to be the result of mutational processes alone: evolutionary analysis of intron length polymorphism in D. melanogaster reveals equivalent ratios of deletion to insertion in regions of high and low recombination. The polymorphism data do reveal, however, an excess of deletions relative to insertions (i.e., a deletion bias), with an overall deletion-to-insertion events ratio of 1.35. We propose two types of selection favoring longer intron lengths. First, the natural mutational bias toward deletion must be opposed by strong selection in very short introns to maintain the minimum intron length needed for the intron splicing reaction. Second, selection will favor insertions in introns that increase recombination between mutations under the influence of selection in adjacent exons. Mutations that increase recombination, even slightly, will be selectively favored because they reduce interference among selected mutations. Interference selection acting on intron length mutations must be very weak, as indicated by frequency spectrum analysis of Drosophila intron length polymorphism, making the equilibrium for intron length sensitive to changes in the recombinational environment and population size. One consequence of this sensitivity is that the advantage of longer introns is expected to decrease inversely with the rate of recombination, thus leading to a negative correlation between intron length and recombination rate. Also in accord with this model, intron length differs between closely related Drosophila species, with the longest variant present more often in D. melanogaster than in D. simulans. We suggest that the study of the proposed dynamic model, taking into account interference among selected sites, might shed light on many aspects of the comparative biology of genome sizes including the C value paradox.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Codon / genetics
  • Computer Simulation
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Drosophila / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genes, Insect
  • Humans
  • Introns*
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Recombination, Genetic*


  • Codon