Convergent evolution of marine mammals is associated with distinct substitutions in common genes

Sci Rep. 2015 Nov 9:5:16550. doi: 10.1038/srep16550.


Phenotypic convergence is thought to be driven by parallel substitutions coupled with natural selection at the sequence level. Multiple independent evolutionary transitions of mammals to an aquatic environment offer an opportunity to test this thesis. Here, whole genome alignment of coding sequences identified widespread parallel amino acid substitutions in marine mammals; however, the majority of these changes were not unique to these animals. Conversely, we report that candidate aquatic adaptation genes, identified by signatures of likelihood convergence and/or elevated ratio of nonsynonymous to synonymous nucleotide substitution rate, are characterized by very few parallel substitutions and exhibit distinct sequence changes in each group. Moreover, no significant positive correlation was found between likelihood convergence and positive selection in all three marine lineages. These results suggest that convergence in protein coding genes associated with aquatic lifestyle is mainly characterized by independent substitutions and relaxed negative selection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / genetics
  • Amino Acid Substitution*
  • Animals
  • Aquatic Organisms / classification
  • Aquatic Organisms / genetics*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genome
  • Mammals / classification
  • Mammals / genetics*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Models, Statistical
  • Phenotype*
  • Phylogeny
  • Selection, Genetic