Recombination drives the evolution of GC-content in the human genome

Mol Biol Evol. 2004 Jun;21(6):984-90. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msh070. Epub 2004 Feb 12.


Unraveling the evolutionary forces responsible for variations of neutral substitution patterns among taxa or along genomes is a major issue in the identification of functional sequence features. Mammalian genomes show large-scale regional variations of GC-content (the isochores), but the substitution processes at the origin of this structure are poorly understood. We have analyzed the pattern of neutral substitutions in 14.3 Mb of primate noncoding regions. We show that the GC-content toward which sequences are evolving is strongly correlated (r(2) = 0.61, P </= 2 10(-16)) with the rate of crossovers (notably in females). This demonstrates that recombination drives the evolution of base composition in human (probably via the process of biased gene conversion). The present substitution patterns are very different from what they had been in the past, resulting in a major modification of the isochore structure of our genome. This non-equilibrium situation suggests that changes of recombination rates occur relatively frequently during evolution, possibly as a consequence of karyotype rearrangements. These results have important implications for understanding the spatial and temporal variations of substitution processes in a broad range of sexual organisms, and for detecting the hallmarks of natural selection in DNA sequences.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Composition / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • Computer Simulation
  • Databases, Nucleic Acid
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Conversion / genetics
  • Genome, Human*
  • Humans
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Primates / genetics
  • Recombination, Genetic / genetics*
  • Sequence Alignment