Evidence for pervasive adaptive protein evolution in wild mice

PLoS Genet. 2010 Jan 22;6(1):e1000825. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000825.


The relative contributions of neutral and adaptive substitutions to molecular evolution has been one of the most controversial issues in evolutionary biology for more than 40 years. The analysis of within-species nucleotide polymorphism and between-species divergence data supports a widespread role for adaptive protein evolution in certain taxa. For example, estimates of the proportion of adaptive amino acid substitutions (alpha) are 50% or more in enteric bacteria and Drosophila. In contrast, recent estimates of alpha for hominids have been at most 13%. Here, we estimate alpha for protein sequences of murid rodents based on nucleotide polymorphism data from multiple genes in a population of the house mouse subspecies Mus musculus castaneus, which inhabits the ancestral range of the Mus species complex and nucleotide divergence between M. m. castaneus and M. famulus or the rat. We estimate that 57% of amino acid substitutions in murids have been driven by positive selection. Hominids, therefore, are exceptional in having low apparent levels of adaptive protein evolution. The high frequency of adaptive amino acid substitutions in wild mice is consistent with their large effective population size, leading to effective natural selection at the molecular level. Effective natural selection also manifests itself as a paucity of effectively neutral nonsynonymous mutations in M. m. castaneus compared to humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Humans
  • Mice / genetics*
  • Proteins / genetics*
  • Rats
  • Selection, Genetic


  • Proteins