Twisted Signatures of GC-Biased Gene Conversion Embedded in an Evolutionary Stable Karyotype

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The genomes of many vertebrates show a characteristic heterogeneous distribution of GC content, the so-called GC isochore structure. The origin of isochores has been explained via the mechanism of GC-biased gene conversion (gBGC). However, although the isochore structure is declining in many mammalian genomes, the heterogeneity in GC content is being reinforced in the avian genome. Despite this discrepancy, which remains unexplained, examinations of individual substitution frequencies in mammals and birds are both consistent with the gBGC model of isochore evolution. On the other hand, a negative correlation between substitution and recombination rate found in the chicken genome is inconsistent with the gBGC model. It should therefore be important to consider along with gBGC other consequences of recombination on the origin and fate of mutations, as well as to account for relationships between recombination rate and other genomic features. We therefore developed an analytical model to describe the substitution patterns found in the chicken genome, and further investigated the relationships between substitution patterns and several genomic features in a rigorous statistical framework. Our analysis indicates that GC content itself, either directly or indirectly via interrelations to other genomic features, has an impact on the substitution pattern. Further, we suggest that this phenomenon is particularly visible in avian genomes due to their unusually low rate of chromosomal evolution. Because of this, interrelations between GC content and other genomic features are being reinforced, and are as such more pronounced in avian genomes as compared with other vertebrate genomes with a less stable karyotype.

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