Estimation of evolutionary distance between nucleotide sequences

Mol Biol Evol. 1984 Apr;1(3):269-85. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a040317.


A mathematical formula for estimating the average number of nucleotide substitutions per site (delta) between two homologous DNA sequences is developed by taking into account unequal rates of substitution among different nucleotide pairs. Although this formula is obtained for the equal-input model of nucleotide substitution, computer simulations have shown that it gives a reasonably good estimate for a wide range of nucleotide substitution patterns as long as delta is equal to or smaller than 1. Furthermore, the frequency of cases to which the formula is inapplicable is much lower than that for other similar methods recently proposed. This point is illustrated using insulin genes. A statistical method for estimating the number of nucleotide changes due to deletion and insertion is also developed. Application of this method to globin gene data indicates that the number of nucleotide changes per site increases with evolutionary time but the pattern of the increase is quite irregular.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Computer Simulation
  • DNA / genetics*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid


  • DNA