Ancestral inference and the study of codon bias evolution: implications for molecular evolutionary analyses of the Drosophila melanogaster subgroup

PLoS One. 2007 Oct 24;2(10):e1065. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001065.


Reliable inference of ancestral sequences can be critical to identifying both patterns and causes of molecular evolution. Robustness of ancestral inference is often assumed among closely related species, but tests of this assumption have been limited. Here, we examine the performance of inference methods for data simulated under scenarios of codon bias evolution within the Drosophila melanogaster subgroup. Genome sequence data for multiple, closely related species within this subgroup make it an important system for studying molecular evolutionary genetics. The effects of asymmetric and lineage-specific substitution rates (i.e., varying levels of codon usage bias and departures from equilibrium) on the reliability of ancestral codon usage was investigated. Maximum parsimony inference, which has been widely employed in analyses of Drosophila codon bias evolution, was compared to an approach that attempts to account for uncertainty in ancestral inference by weighting ancestral reconstructions by their posterior probabilities. The latter approach employs maximum likelihood estimation of rate and base composition parameters. For equilibrium and most non-equilibrium scenarios that were investigated, the probabilistic method appears to generate reliable ancestral codon bias inferences for molecular evolutionary studies within the D. melanogaster subgroup. These reconstructions are more reliable than parsimony inference, especially when codon usage is strongly skewed. However, inference biases are considerable for both methods under particular departures from stationarity (i.e., when adaptive evolution is prevalent). Reliability of inference can be sensitive to branch lengths, asymmetry in substitution rates, and the locations and nature of lineage-specific processes within a gene tree. Inference reliability, even among closely related species, can be strongly affected by (potentially unknown) patterns of molecular evolution in lineages ancestral to those of interest.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cell Lineage
  • Codon
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Variation
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Selection, Genetic


  • Codon