The ghost of selection past: rates of evolution and functional divergence of anciently duplicated genes

J Mol Evol. Oct-Nov 2001;53(4-5):436-46. doi: 10.1007/s002390010233.


The duplication of genes and even complete genomes may be a prerequisite for major evolutionary transitions and the origin of evolutionary novelties. However, the evolutionary mechanisms of gene evolution and the origin of novel gene functions after gene duplication have been a subject of many debates. Recently, we compiled 26 groups of orthologous genes, which included one gene from human, mouse, and chicken, one or two genes from the tetraploid Xenopus and two genes from zebrafish. Comparative analysis and mapping data showed that these pairs of zebrafish genes were probably produced during a fish-specific genome duplication that occurred between 300 and 450 Mya, before the teleost radiation (Taylor et al. 2001). As discussed here, many of these retained duplicated genes code for DNA binding proteins. Different models have been developed to explain the retention of duplicated genes and in particular the subfunctionalization model of Force et al. (1999) could explain why so many developmental control genes have been retained. Other models are harder to reconcile with this particular set of duplicated genes. Most genes seem to have been subjected to strong purifying selection, keeping properties such as charge and polarity the same in both duplicates, although some evidence was found for positive Darwinian selection, in particular for Hox genes. However, since only the cumulative pattern of nucleotide substitutions can be studied, clear indications of positive Darwinian selection or neutrality may be hard to find for such anciently duplicated genes. Nevertheless, an increase in evolutionary rate in about half of the duplicated genes seems to suggest that either positive Darwinian selection has occurred or that functional constraints have been relaxed at one point in time during functional divergence.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 2
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / genetics
  • Chickens / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Duplication*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Models, Genetic
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Time Factors
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta*
  • Xenopus / genetics
  • Zebrafish / genetics


  • BMP2 protein, human
  • Bmp2 protein, mouse
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 2
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta