Disentangling the effects of selection and loss bias on gene dynamics Articles uri icon

publication date

  • July 2017

start page

  • E5616

end page

  • E5624


  • 28


  • 114

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0027-8424

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1091-6490


  • We combine mathematical modeling of genome evolution with comparative analysis of prokaryotic genomes to estimate the relative contributions of selection and intrinsic loss bias to the evolution of different functional classes of genes and mobile genetic elements (MGE). An exact solution for the dynamics of gene family size was obtained under a linear duplication-transfer-loss model with selection. With the exception of genes involved in information processing, particularly translation, which are maintained by strong selection, the average selection coefficient for most nonparasitic genes is low albeit positive, compatible with observed positive correlation between genome size and effective population size. Free-living microbes evolve under stronger selection for gene retention than parasites. Different classes of MGE show a broad range of fitness effects, from the nearly neutral transposons to prophages, which are actively eliminated by selection. Genes involved in antiparasite defense, on average, incur a fitness cost to the host that is at least as high as the cost of plasmids. This cost is probably due to the adverse effects of autoimmunity and curtailment of horizontal gene transfer caused by the defense systems and selfish behavior of some of these systems, such as toxin-antitoxin and restriction modification modules. Transposons follow a biphasic dynamics, with bursts of gene proliferation followed by decay in the copy number that is quantitatively captured by the model. The horizontal gene transfer to loss ratio, but not duplication to loss ratio, correlates with genome size, potentially explaining increased abundance of neutral and costly elements in larger genomes.


  • Mathematics


  • mobile genetic elements; selection; gene loss; horizontal gene transfer; antiparasite defense