This study presents the first global, 1-Mbp-level analysis of patterns of nucleotide substitutions along the human lineage. The study is based on the analysis of a large amount of repetitive elements deposited into the human genome since the mammalian radiation, yielding a number of results that would have been difficult to obtain using the more conventional comparative method of analysis. This analysis revealed substantial and consistent variability of rates of substitution, with the variability ranging up to twofold among different regions. The rates of substitutions of C or G nucleotides with A or T nucleotides vary much more sharply than the reverse rates, suggesting that much of that variation is due to differences in mutation rates rather than in the probabilities of fixation of C/G vs. A/T nucleotides across the genome. For all types of substitution we observe substantially more hotspots than coldspots, with hotspots showing substantial clustering over tens of Mbp’s. Our analysis revealed that GC-content of surrounding sequences is the best predictor of the rates of substitution. The pattern of substitution appears very different near telomeres compared to the rest of the genome and cannot be explained by the genome-wide correlations of the substitution rates with GC content or exon density. The telomere pattern of substitution is consistent with natural selection or biased gene conversion acting to increase the GC-content of the sequences that are within 10–15 Mbp away from the telomere.
Genome evolution Nucleotide substitution Genomic isochores Short interspersed elements
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T.H. is supported by the NSF through Grants 0211308, 0216576, and 0225630. D.P. is supported by NSF Grant DEB-0317171, the Terman Award, and the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship in Computational Molecular Biology. P.A. and D.P. are grateful for the hospitality of the Center for Theoretical Biological Physics at UCSD, where extensive discussions of this research took place.
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