Likelihood ratio tests for detecting positive selection and application to primate lysozyme evolution

Mol Biol Evol. 1998 May;15(5):568-73. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a025957.


An excess of nonsynonymous substitutions over synonymous ones is an important indicator of positive selection at the molecular level. A lineage that underwent Darwinian selection may have a nonsynonymous/synonymous rate ratio (dN/dS) that is different from those of other lineages or greater than one. In this paper, several codon-based likelihood models that allow for variable dN/dS ratios among lineages were developed. They were then used to construct likelihood ratio tests to examine whether the dN/dS ratio is variable among evolutionary lineages, whether the ratio for a few lineages of interest is different from the background ratio for other lineages in the phylogeny, and whether the dN/dS ratio for the lineages of interest is greater than one. The tests were applied to the lysozyme genes of 24 primate species. The dN/dS ratios were found to differ significantly among lineages, indicating that the evolution of primate lysozymes is episodic, which is incompatible with the neutral theory. Maximum-likelihood estimates of parameters suggested that about nine nonsynonymous and zero synonymous nucleotide substitutions occurred in the lineage leading to hominoids, and the dN/dS ratio for that lineage is significantly greater than one. The corresponding estimates for the lineage ancestral to colobine monkeys were nine and one, and the dN/dS ratio for the lineage is not significantly greater than one, although it is significantly higher than the background ratio. The likelihood analysis thus confirmed most, but not all, conclusions Messier and Stewart reached using reconstructed ancestral sequences to estimate synonymous and nonsynonymous rates for different lineages.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Likelihood Functions*
  • Models, Biological
  • Muramidase / physiology*
  • Primates / physiology*
  • Selection, Genetic*


  • Muramidase