Universal Pacemaker of Genome Evolution
A fundamental observation of comparative genomics is that the distribution of evolution rates across the complete sets of orthologous genes in pairs of related genomes remains virtually unchanged throughout the evolution of life, from bacteria to mammals. The most straightforward explanation for the conservation of this distribution appears to be that the relative evolution rates of all genes remain nearly constant, or in other words, that evolutionary rates of different genes are strongly correlated within each evolving genome. This correlation could be explained by a model that we denoted Universal PaceMaker (UPM) of genome evolution. The UPM model posits that the rate of evolution changes synchronously across genome-wide sets of genes in all evolving lineages. Alternatively, however, the correlation between the evolutionary rates of genes could be a simple consequence of molecular clock (MC). We sought to differentiate between the MC and UPM models by fitting thousands of phylogenetic trees for bacterial and archaeal genes to supertrees that reflect the dominant trend of vertical descent in the evolution of archaea and bacteria and that were constrained according to the two models. The goodness of fit for the UPM model was better than the fit for the MC model, with overwhelming statistical significance, although similarly to the MC, the UPM is strongly overdispersed. Thus, the results of this analysis reveal a universal, genome-wide pacemaker of evolution that could have been in operation throughout the history of life. A central concept of evolution is Molecular Clock according to which each gene evolves at a characteristic, near constant rate. Numerous studies support the Molecular Clock hypothesis in principle but also show that the clock is indeed very approximate. Genome-wide comparative analysis of phylogenetic trees described here reveals a distinct, more general feature of genome evolution that we called Universal Pacemaker. Under this model, when the rate of evolution changes, the change occurs synchronously in many if not all genes in the evolving genome. In other words, the relative rates of gene evolution remain constant across long evolutionary spans: if a gene is slow relative to the rest of the genes in the given lineage, it is always slow, and if it evolves fast, it is always fast. We show here that the Universal Pacemaker model fits the available data much better than the traditional Molecular Clock model. These findings are compatible with the previously observed accelerations and decelerations of evolution in individual lineages but we show that synchronous, genome-wide change of evolutionary rates is a global feature of genome evolution that appears to pervade the entire history of life.