Rates of nuclear DNA evolution in pheasant-like birds: evidence from restriction maps

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1986 Feb;83(3):688-92. doi: 10.1073/pnas.83.3.688.


To examine the tempo of genomic evolution in birds, we mapped 161 restriction sites in the nuclear DNA of seven species of birds belonging to the pheasant superfamily Phasianoidea. The three regions mapped lie on different chromosomes and bear eight genes, coding for lysozyme c, three "alpha-like" globins, and four "beta-like" globins. Together, the three regions span about 56 kilobases, most of which is presumably noncoding. The maps differed from one another at a minimum of 77 sites and by 9 length mutations. The extent of sequence divergence due to base substitutions was inferred to be similar for all three regions, even though the three coding regions differ by 5-fold from one another in mean rate of evolution at the amino acid level. A tree relating the maps differs in branching order from that implied by the traditional classification of phasianoid birds and is supported by published protein comparisons. Five of the nodes in the tree were associated with fossil evidence and historical biogeographic information, allowing us to estimate the mean rate of DNA divergence to be 0.34-0.40% per million years. This rate is similar to that estimated for the globin gene regions of higher primates, which validates the concept of an evolutionary clock at the DNA level. Our fossil-based calibration of DNA evolution differs by a factor of almost 2 from that proposed by others on the basis of biogeography. In consequence, published estimates of divergence times for birds and primates that are based on a biogeographically calibrated DNA clock may be too long.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Biological Evolution
  • Birds / genetics*
  • Chickens / genetics
  • DNA / genetics*
  • DNA Restriction Enzymes
  • Globins / genetics
  • Muramidase / genetics
  • Turkeys / genetics


  • Globins
  • DNA
  • DNA Restriction Enzymes
  • Muramidase