The paper describes a mutational equilibrium model of genome size evolution. This model is different from both adaptive and junk DNA models of genome size evolution in that it does not assume that genome size is maintained either by positive or stabilizing selection for the optimum genome size (as in adaptive theories) or by purifying selection against too much junk DNA (as in junk DNA theories). Instead the genome size is suggested to evolve until the loss of DNA through more frequent small deletions is equal to the rate of DNA gain through more frequent long insertions. The empirical basis for this theory is the finding of a strong correlation and of a clear power-function relationship between the rate of mutational DNA loss (per bp) through small deletions and genome size in animals. Genome size scales as a negative 1.3 power function of the deletion rate per nucleotide. Such a relationship is not predicted by either adaptive or junk DNA theories. However, if genome size is maintained at equilibrium by the balance of mutational forces, this empirilical relationship can be readily accommodated. Within this framework, this finding would imply that the rate of DNA gain through large insertions scales up a quarter-power function of genome size. On this view, as genome size grows, the rate of growth through large insertions is increasing as a quarter power function of genome size and the rate of DNA loss through small deletions increases linearly, until eventually, at the stable equilibrium genome size value, rates of growth and loss equal each other. The current data also suggest that the long-term variation is genome size in animals is brought about to a significant extent by changes in the intrinsic rates of DNA loss through small deletions. Both the origin of mutational biases and the adaptive consequences of such a mode of evolution of genome size are discussed.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science (USA)