Models of nucleotide substitution were constructed for combined analyses of heterogeneous sequence data (such as those of multiple genes) from the same set of species. The models account for different aspects of the heterogeneity in the evolutionary process of different genes, such as differences in nucleotide frequencies, in substitution rate bias (for example, the transition/transversion rate bias), and in the extent of rate variation across sites. Model parameters were estimated by maximum likelihood and the likelihood ratio test was used to test hypotheses concerning sequence evolution, such as rate constancy among lineages (the assumption of a molecular clock) and proportionality of branch lengths for different genes. The example data from a segment of the mitochondrial genome of six hominoid species (human, common and pygmy chimpanzees, gorilla, orangutan, and siamang) were analyzed. Nucleotides at the three codon positions in the protein-coding regions and from the tRNA-coding regions were considered heterogeneous data sets. Statistical tests showed that the amount of evolution in the sequence data reflected in the estimated branch lengths can be explained by the codon-position effect and lineage effect of substitution rates. The assumption of a molecular clock could not be rejected when the data were analyzed separately or when the rate variation among sites was ignored. However, significant differences in substitution rate among lineages were found when the data sets were combined and when the rate variation among sites was accounted for in the models. Under the assumption that the orangutan and African apes diverged 13 million years ago, the combined analysis of the sequence data estimated the times for the human-chimpanzee separation and for the separation of the gorilla as 4.3 and 6.8 million years ago, respectively.
Models Maximum likelihood Multiple gene data Molecular clock