Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 56, Issue 6, pp 718–729 | Cite as

Epigenetic Silencing May Aid Evolution by Gene Duplication



Gene duplication is commonly regarded as the main evolutionary path toward the gain of a new function. However, even with gene duplication, there is a loss-versus-gain dilemma: most newly born duplicates degrade to pseudogenes, since degenerative mutations are much more frequent than advantageous ones. Thus, something additional seems to be needed to shift the loss versus gain equilibrium toward functional divergence. We suggest that epigenetic silencing of duplicates might play this role in evolution. This study began when we noticed in a previous publication (Lynch M, Conery JS [2000] Science 291:1151–1155) that the frequency of functional young gene duplicates is higher in organisms that have cytosine methylation (H. sapiens, M. musculus, and A. thaliana) than in organisms that do not have methylated genomes (S. cerevisiae, D. melanogaster, and C. elegans). We find that genome data analysis confirms the likelihood of much more efficient functional divergence of gene duplicates in mammals and plants than in yeast, nematode, and fly. We have also extended the classic model of gene duplication, in which newly duplicated genes have exactly the same expression pattern, to the case when they are epigenetically silenced in a tissue- and/or developmental stage-complementary manner. This exposes each of the duplicates to negative selection, thus protecting from “pseudogenization.” Our analysis indicates that this kind of silencing (i) enhances evolution of duplicated genes to new functions, particularly in small populations, (ii) is quite consistent with the subfunctionalization model when degenerative but complementary mutations affect different subfunctions of the gene, and (iii) furthermore, may actually cooperate with the DDC (duplication– degeneration–complementation) process.


Comparative genomics Gene families Pseudogenes Gene expression Methylation Imprinting 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Theoretical Biology DepartmentBeckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, 1500 East Duarte Road, Duarte, CA 91010-3000USA
  2. 2.Biology DivisionBeckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, 1500 East Duarte Road, Duarte, CA 91010-3000USA

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