Enhanced Synonymous Site Divergence in Positively Selected VertebrateAntimicrobial Peptide Genes
Nonrandom patterns associated with adaptively evolving genes can shed light on how selection and mutation produce rapid changes in sequences. I examine such patterns in two independent families of antimicrobial peptide genes: those in frogs, which are known to have evolved under positive selection, and those in flatfishes, which I show have also evolved under positive selection. I address two recently proposed hypotheses about the molecular evolution of antimicrobial peptide genes. The first is that the mature peptide region is replicated by an error-prone polymerase that increases the mutation rate and the transversion/transition ratio compared to the signal sequence of the same genes. The second is that mature peptides evolve in a coordinated fashion with their propieces, such that a change in net charge in one molecular region prompts an opposite change in charge in the other region. I test these hypotheses using alternative methods that minimize alignment errors, correct for phylogenetic nonindependence, reduce sequence saturation, and account for differing selection pressures on different regions of the gene. In both gene families I show that divergence at both synonymous and nonsynonymous sites within the mature peptide region is enhanced. However, in neither gene family is there evidence of an increased mutational transversion/transition ratio or coordinated evolution. My observations are consistent with either an elevated mutation rate in an adaptively evolving gene region or widespread selection on “silent” sites. These hypotheses challenge the assumption that mutations are random and can be measured by the synonymous substitution rate.