Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 58-64

First online:

Ubiquitin genes as a paradigm of concerted evolution of tandem repeats

  • Paul M. SharpAffiliated withCenter for Demographic and Population Genetics, University of TexasDepartment of Genetics, Trinity College
  • , Wen-Hsiung LiAffiliated withCenter for Demographic and Population Genetics, University of Texas

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Ubiquitin is remarkable for its ubiquitous distribution and its extreme protein sequence conservation. Ubiquitin genes comprise direct repeats of the ubiquitin coding unit with no spacers. The nucleotide sequences of several ubiquitin repeats from each of humans, chicken,Xenopus, Drosophila, barley, and yeast have recently been determined. By analysis of these data we show that ubiquitin is evolving more slowly than any other known protein, and that this (together with its gene organization) contributes to an ideal situation for the occurrence of concerted evolution of tandem repeats. By contrast, there is little evidence of between-cluster concerted evolution. We deduce that in ubiquitin genes, concerted evolution involves both unequal crossover and gene conversion, and that the average time since two repeated units within the polyubiquitin locus most recently shared a common ancestor is approximately 38 million years (Myr) in mammals, but perhaps only 11 Myr inDrosophila. The extreme conservatism of ubiquitin evolution also allows the inference that certain synonymous serine codons differing at the first two positions were probably mutated at single steps.

Key words

Molecular evolution Protein sequence conservation Synonymous substitution Unequal crossover Gene conversion