Context dependence, ancestral misidentification, and spurious signatures of natural selection

Mol Biol Evol. 2007 Aug;24(8):1792-800. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msm108. Epub 2007 Jun 1.


Population genetic analyses often use polymorphism data from one species, and orthologous genomic sequences from closely related outgroup species. These outgroup sequences are frequently used to identify ancestral alleles at segregating sites and to compare the patterns of polymorphism and divergence. Inherent in such studies is the assumption of parsimony, which posits that the ancestral state of each single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) is the allele that matches the orthologous site in the outgroup sequence, and that all nucleotide substitutions between species have been observed. This study tests the effect of violating the parsimony assumption when mutation rates vary across sites and over time. Using a context-dependent mutation model that accounts for elevated mutation rates at CpG dinucleotides, increased propensity for transitional versus transversional mutations, as well as other directional and contextual mutation biases estimated along the human lineage, we show (using both simulations and a theoretical model) that enough unobserved substitutions could have occurred since the divergence of human and chimpanzee to cause many statistical tests to spuriously reject neutrality. Moreover, using both the chimpanzee and rhesus macaque genomes to parsimoniously identify ancestral states causes a large fraction of the data to be removed while not completely alleviating problem. By constructing a novel model of the context-dependent mutation process, we can correct polymorphism data for the effect of ancestral misidentification using a single outgroup.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta / genetics*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Pan troglodytes / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics*
  • Selection, Genetic*