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Mathematical elegance with biochemical realism: the covarion model of molecular evolution


Penny, D and McComish, BJ and Charleston, MA and Hendy, MD, Mathematical elegance with biochemical realism: the covarion model of molecular evolution, Journal of Molecular Evolution, 53, (6) pp. 711-723. ISSN 0022-2844 (2001) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2001 Springer

DOI: doi:10.1007/s002390010258


There is an apparent paradox in our understanding of molecular evolution. Current biochemically based models predict that evolutionary trees should not be recoverable for divergences beyond a few hundred million years. In practice, however, trees often appear to be recovered from much older times. Mathematical models, such as those assuming that sites evolve at different rates [including a Γ distribution of rates across sites (RAS)] may in theory allow the recovery of some ancient divergences. However, such models require that each site maintain its characteristic rate over the whole evolutionary period. This assumption, however, contradicts the knowledge that tertiary structures diverge with time, invalidating the rate-constancy assumption of purely mathematical models. We report here that a hidden Markov version of the covarion model can meet both biochemical and statistical requirements for the analysis of sequence data. The model was proposed on biochemical grounds and can be implemented with only two additional parameters. The two hidden parts of this model are the proportion of sites free to vary (covarions) and the rate of interchange between fixed sites and these variable sites. Simulation results are consistent with this approach, providing a better framework for understanding anciently diverged sequences than the standard RAS models. However, a Γ distribution of rates may approximate a covarion model and may possibly be justified on these grounds. The accurate reconstruction of older divergences from sequence data is still a major problem, and molecular evolution still requires mathematical models that also have a sound biochemical basis.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:covarion model, hidden Markov model, rates across sites, role of models in science
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Evolutionary biology
Research Field:Phylogeny and comparative analysis
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences
UTAS Author:McComish, BJ (Dr Bennet McComish)
ID Code:96200
Year Published:2001
Web of Science® Times Cited:143
Deposited By:Mathematics and Physics
Deposited On:2014-10-22
Last Modified:2014-11-10

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