New methods for detecting positive selection at single amino acid sites

J Mol Evol. 2004 Jul;59(1):11-9. doi: 10.1007/s00239-004-2599-6.


Inferring positive selection at single amino acid sites is of particular importance for studying evolutionary mechanisms of a protein. For this purpose, Suzuki and Gojobori (1999) developed a method (SG method) for comparing the rates of synonymous and nonsynonymous substitutions at each codon site in a protein-coding nucleotide sequence, using ancestral codons at interior nodes of the phylogenetic tree as inferred by the maximum parsimony method. In the SG method, however, selective neutrality of nucleotide substitutions cannot be tested at codon sites, where only termination codons are inferred at any interior node or the number of equally parsimonious inferences of ancestral codons at all interior nodes exceeds 10,000. Here I present a modified SG method which is free from these problems. Specifically, I use the distance-based Bayesian method for inferring the single most likely ancestral codon from 61 sense codons at each interior node. In the computer simulation and real data analysis, the modified SG method showed a higher overall efficiency of detecting positive selection than the original SG method, particularly at highly polymorphic codon sites. These results indicate that the modified SG method is useful for inferring positive selection at codon sites where neutrality cannot be tested by the original SG method. I also discuss that the p-distance is preferable to the number of synonymous substitutions for inferring the phylogenetic tree in the SG method, and present a maximum likelihood method for detecting positive selection at single amino acid sites, which produced reasonable results in the real data analysis.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / genetics*
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Classification / methods*
  • Codon / genetics*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Genetic
  • Phylogeny*
  • Selection, Genetic*


  • Amino Acids
  • Codon