This information has not been peer-reviewed. Responsibility for the findings rests solely with the authorss.
Deposited research article
The Adaptive Evolution Database (TAED)
David A Liberles1'4, David R Schreiber', Sridhar Govindarajan3'5, Stephen G
Chamberlin3, and Steven A Benner1'2
Addresses: 'Departments of Chemistry and of 2Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611 USA. 3Bioinformatics
Division, EraGen Biosciences, 12085 Research Drive, Alachua, FL 32615 USA. 4Current Address: Department of Biochemistry and
Biophysics and Stockholm Bioinformatics Center, Stockholm University, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden. 5Current Address: Maxygen, 515
Galveston Drive, Redwood City, CA 94063, USA.
Correspondence: David A Liberles. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: 9 March 2001
Genome Biology 2001, 2(4):preprint0003.1-0003.18
The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be
found online at http://genomebiology.com/200 l/2/4/preprint/0003
BioMed Central Ltd (Print ISSN 1465-6906; Online ISSN 1465-6914)
Received: 7 March 2001
This is the first version of this article to be made available publicly.
This article has been submitted to Genome Biology for peer review.
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2 Genome Biology Deposited research (preprint)
The Adaptive Evolution Database (TAED)
David A. Liberles"14*, David R. Schreiber', Sridhar Govindarajan3'5, Stephen G. Chamberlin3, and
Steven A. Benner"12
'Departments of Chemistry and of 2Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville,
FL 32611 USA
3Bioinformatics Division, EraGen Biosciences, 12085 Research Drive, Alachua, FL 32615 USA
4Current Address: Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and Stockholm Bioinformatics
Center, Stockholm University, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden
5Current Address: Maxygen, 515 Galveston Drive, Redwood City, CA 94063, USA
*To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and
Stockholm Bioinformatics Center, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
running head: The Adaptive Evolution Database (TAED)
keywords: species diversification, protein, DNA, phylogeny
March 6, 2001
http://genomebiology.com/2001/ 2/4/preprint/0003 .3
Developing an understanding of the molecular basis for the divergence of species lies at the
heart of biology. The Adaptive Evolution Database (TAED) serves as a starting point to link events
that occur at the same time in the evolutionary history (tree of life) of species, based upon coding
sequence evolution analyzed with the Master Catalog. The Master Catalog is a collection of
evolutionary models, including multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic trees, and reconstructed
ancestral sequences, for all independently evolving protein sequence modules encoded by genes in
We have estimated from these models the ratio of nonsynonymous to synonymous
nucleotide substitution (Ka/Ks), for each branch in their respective evolutionary trees of every
subtree containing only chordata or only embryophyta proteins. Branches with high Ka/Ks values
represent candidate episodes in the history of the family where the protein may have undergone
positive selection, a phenomenon in molecular evolution where the mutant form of a gene must
have conferred more fitness than the ancestral form. Such episodes are frequently associated with
change in function. We have found that an unexpectedly large number of families (between 10 and
20% of those families examined) have at least one branch with a notably high Ka/Ks value (putative
adaptive evolution). As a resource for biologists wishing to understand the interaction between
protein sequences and the Darwinian processes that shape these sequences, we have collected these
into The Adaptive Evolution Database (TAED).
4 Genome Biology Deposited research (preprint)
Placed in a phylogenetic perspective, candidate genes that are undergoing evolution at the
same time in the same lineage can be viewed together. This framework based upon coding
sequence evolution can be readily expanded to include other types of evolution. In its present form,
TAED provides a resource for bioinformaticists interested in data mining and for experimental
evolutionists seeking candidate examples of adaptive evolution for further experimental study.
http://genomebiology.com/2001/ 2/4/preprint/0003 .5
The growth of gene and genomic databases motivates efforts to develop tools to extract
information about the function of a protein from sequence data with the ultimate goal of
understanding the collection of functions represented in an organismal genome. A long history of
work in molecular evolution extending over thirty years has shown that such questions must be
phrased carefully, and always with cognizance of the Darwinian paradigm that insists that the only
way to obtain functional behavior in living systems is through natural selection superimposed upon
random variation in structure . A behavior is functional if the host would be less able to survive
and reproduce if that behavior were different. An amino acid residue is functional if, upon
mutation, the host is less able to survive and reproduce.
A long literature has sought to interpret the evolutionary behavior of protein sequences, in
the hope of drawing inferences about the relationship between fitness and sequence . What has
emerged is the recognition that a family of orthologous proteins displays a continuum of structure
and a corresponding continuum in behavior, where some of the behavioral differences have a strong
impact on fitness (are functional), while others are neutral (or nearly so). Without resolving, in a
general way, questions regarding the relationship (neutrality vs. selection) between fitness and
protein sequence, we can build interpretive tools that capture information from patterns of evolution
of genomic sequences that is informative about function, in particular, events that are characterized
by the biological scientist as a change in function.
For a protein to change its function, it must change its behavior; this in turn requires that it
change its amino acid sequence. A protein being recruited for a very different function over a very
short time (geologically speaking) frequently experiences an episode of rapid sequence evolution,
an episode where the number of amino acid substitutions per unit time is large. Therefore,
molecular evolutionists have long been interested in the rates with which substitutions accumulate
in protein sequences. These rates are known to vary widely in different protein families.
6 Genome Biology Deposited research (preprint)
Calculating rates in the units substitutions/time requires knowledge of the geological dates
of divergence of protein sequences. Because geological times are frequently not known (and almost
never known precisely), alternative approaches for identifying episodes of rapid sequence evolution
have been sought. One of these examines nucleotide substitutions, and divides the number of
nucleotide substitutions that change the sequence of the encoded protein (nonsynonymous
substitution) by the number of nucleotide substitutions that do not change the sequence of the
encoded protein (synonymous substitution), and then normalizes these for the number of
nonsynonymous and synonymous sites. This is the Ka/Ks ratio [4-5]. High Ka/Ks ratios for
reconstructed ancestral episodes of sequence evolution are known to be signatures of positive
adaptation, which in turn indicate significant change in function [6-7].
In general, Ka/Ks values are low. For example, the average Ka/Ks value in proteins between
rodents and primates is 0.2 . This is taken to indicate that most of these proteins, selected for
millions of years, attained an optimum function prior to the divergence of rodents and primates.
This implies that subsequent evolution was conservative; most nonsynonymous mutations were
detrimental to the fitness of the organism.
Functional change can be defined as mutation that alters organismal fitness and is subject to
selective pressure. For an example of intraspecific variation, phosphoglucose isomerase in montane
beetles shows adaptation to local temperature variations . Orthologous proteins also suffer
positive selection. For example, the hemoglobin in the bar-headed goose has suffered adaptive
change relative to the hemoglobin from the closely related greylag goose in response to a reduced
partial pressure of oxygen at high altitudes . Adaptive evolution is also believed to be displayed
in paralogous mammalian MHC class I genes and relate to a birth and death model of gene
Traditionally, positive selection is defined by a Ka/Ks ratio significantly greater than unity.
However, the theoretical cutoff of 1 is well known to miss significant functional changes in proteins
for several reasons . Long branches can dilute an episode of positive adaptation with episodes
http://genomebiology.com/2001/ 2/4/preprint/0003 .7
of conservative evolution. Ka/Ks values can miss positive selective pressures on individual amino
acids because they average events over the entire protein sequence. Behavior in a protein can
change significantly if only a few amino acids change while the remainder of the sequence is
conserved in order to retain core behaviors of the old and new functions (e.g. the protein fold).
These adaptive events will only be detected on sufficiently short branches which pinpoint the
Alternative ways to identify Ka/Ks values below unity that are suggestive of adaptive
evolution involve comparison of these values for an individual branch of a tree with those values
for branches in the tree generally. If one branch has a Ka/Ks value far outside of the norm for the
family (but still below 1), we can guess that this branch represents an episode of positive selection.
This will work for gene families that generally display conservative evolution (such as the SH2
domains) , but not for others. For example, many immune system genes show a much more
continuous distribution of values, which may indicate that they are perpetually under different
amounts of positive selective pressure . In this case, the designation of a cut-off value of
Ka/Ks, below which two homologous genes have the same function, and above which they have
different functions, is arbitrary. Ultimately this level should be determined by benchmarking
adaptivity with specific functions and specific protein folds.
Ka/Ks ratios are well known to be useful starting points for generating stories about the
interaction between protein sequences and the Darwinian processes that shape these sequences.
These stories help us understand how these sequences contribute to the fitness of the host. This
means that biologists would find useful a comprehensive database of examples where Ka/Ks values
are high. Most useful would be a database that presents families where Ka/Ks is greater than 1, and
a separate family where Ka/Ks is greater than some arbitrary cut-off less than 1, but still relatively
high compared to the average value in the average protein.
We report here such a database, The Adaptive Evolution Database (TAED). TAED is
designed as a database to collect molecular events that are candidates for driving divergent
8 Genome Biology Deposited research (preprint)
evolution along each branch of the chordate and embryophyta trees of life. TAED contains a
collection of protein families where at least one branch in the reconstructed molecular record has a
Ka/Ks value greater than 1, or greater than 0.6. The second is an arbitrary cut-off that is high
relative to the average Ka/Ks value for the average protein and seems to include many additional
examples of genes that are likely to be true positives. Thus, it collects events in the molecular
history recorded in the contemporary genomic database that are candidates for adaptive evolution.
TAED can be utilized for benchmarking purposes and as a list of potentially adaptively evolving
genes for experimentalists interested in studying these candidate genes in further detail and for
bioinformaticists interested in studying large datasets of examples of genes with high Ka/Ks ratios.
Starting with the Master Catalog (version 1.1 derived from Genbank release 113) , Ka/Ks
ratios were reconstructed database-wide for each ancestral branch in every evolutionary tree
containing genes from chordata and embryophyta. Analysis here was restricted to these organisms
because there is less evidence for codon and GC-content biases which complicate the accurate
calculation of Ks. Ka/Ks calculations used a modification of the method of Li and Pamilo and
Bianchi [4-5] to incorporate reconstructed ancestral sequences and thus allow specific branches
undergoing putative adaptive evolution to be identified. The Master Catalog uses multiple
sequence alignments generated from Clustal W and neighbor joining trees. Reconstruction of
ancestral sequences was done using the Fitch maximum parsimony methodology . While
reconstructed ancestral sequences contain ambiguities, using probabilistic ancestral sequences
embraces this and allows us to construct a model of evolutionary history that is robust.
While maximum likelihood methodologies perform better in some situations, they are too
computationally intensive to apply exhaustively. Further, they are based upon an explicit model of
evolution that may not be appropriate along all branches analyzed, a situation where maximum
parsimony may outperform maximum likelihood on some branches . Therefore, to generate the
initial version of this database, more computationally simple methods were used. As new
methodology is developed, this database will be recalculated using different methodologies. Since
ancestral sequence reconstruction, is approximate, these branches should be viewed as candidates
rather than absolutely definitive statements of adaptivity.
Two cutoffs of Ka/Ks ratio were utilized, branches with values>1 and with values>0.6.
While reconstruction back to the last common ancestor of chordates or embryophyta with no
intermediates frequently bears the signature of synonymous position equilibration, synonymous
position saturation can be avoided if individual branches are shorter than the period required for
saturation to occur (tl/2 to saturation -120 million years). Saturation was measured through the
calculation of neutral evolutionary distances (NED) along branches. NED is defined as the
synonymous substitution rate in two-fold redundant codons interchanged by a pyrimidine-
pyrimidine transition . These are the fastest equilibrating sites. Branches which showed NED
values greater than 5 half lives towards saturation were excluded from TAED based upon
differences between reconstructed ancestral sequences at the beginning of branches and sequences
at the end.
A second problem of significance is that of short branches bearing fractional mutations. In
order to exclude these, a new test was implemented. The modified Ka/Ks calculation is simple and
is described below:
Kamod=(number of nonsyn-1)/total nonsyn. sites
Ksmod=(number of syn.+ 1)/total syn. sites
10 Genome Biology Deposited research (preprint)
In general, the smaller the difference between Ka/Ks and Kamo/Ksmod, the more significant or robust
the branch. To exclude short branches with fractional mutations without excluding other short
branches, branches with Kamod/Ksmod values below 0.5 were excluded from TAED.
The resulting dataset is available for further analysis at
The Master Catalog is a database of 26,843 families of protein modules . This database
was generated from an all-against-all search of Genbank release 113. A protein is broken into
independently evolving modules by the presence of a subsection of a gene as a complete open
reading frame in another species. Pairs that were within 180 PAM units with a minimum length
requirement were grouped into the same family. Each family contains an evolutionary tree and a
multiple sequence alignment. This database was the starting point for the exhaustive calculation of
The Master Catalog is different, both in concept and execution, from other resources (e.g.
Hovergen  Pfam , and COGs) that offer databases of protein families. The Master Catalog
incorporates reconstructed ancestral states within its data structure, in addition to multiple sequence
alignments and evolutionary trees. Having these reconstructed ancestral states provides a dimension
of value to the database, especially for functional interpretation, that is not offered by databases that
contain only trees, or only multiple sequence alignments, or only trees and multiple sequence
alignments. Further, because the Master Catalog is explicitly developed as a tool for doing
functional genomics relying reconstructed intermediates, and as the information about function is
extracted from analysis of patterns of variation and conservation in genes and proteins within a
family, it emphasizes obtaining high quality trees, MSAs, and reconstructed ancestral states. For
this reason, the Master Catalog does not attempt to build superfamilies (like Pfam does, for
example). Instead, the Master Catalog constructs nuclear families, where the trees, MSAs, and
ancestral states are quite reliable.
Of 5305 families of modules containing chordate proteins, 280 contained at least one branch
with a Ka/Ks value greater than 1, representing 643 branches emanating from 63 different nodes of
the tree of life. Some 778 families had at least one branch with a Ka/Ks value greater than 0.6,
totaling 2232 branches emanating from 92 nodes of the tree of life. Thus 15% of all families of
chordate modules are likely to have modified their function at least once during the course of
Of 3385 families of modules representing embyophyta proteins, 123 have at least one
branch with a Ka/Ks value greater than 1, representing 228 families emanating from 25 nodes.
Some 407 families had at least 1 branch with a Ka/Ks value greater than 0.6, totaling 1105 branches
from 43 nodes. Here, perhaps 12% of all embryophyta families have modified their function along
at least one branch.
This result based upon ancestral sequence reconstruction contrasts greatly with the result of
Endo, Ikeo, and Gojobori, where the search for gene families undergoing adaptive evolution yielded
only 2 families . These scientists compared extant sequences rather than reconstructed
evolutionary intermediates, counted families only where a majority of the pairs at high Ka/Ks
values, and used a smaller database.
A list of protein module family candidates for having undergone modification of function is
available on the web at http://www.sbc.su.se/-liberles/TAED.html. The version described here is
designated TAED 2.1 and will remain available at this site. As more sophisticated methods are
developed and applied, as correlations with functional and structural databases are pursued, and as
data from other types of evolution beyond coding sequence evolution is added, links to these
datasets will be provided. TAED 2.1 contains two image mapped trees (for chordates and
embryophyta), where the node that an adaptive branch emanates from can be clicked on to obtain a
12 Genome Biology Deposited research (preprint)
list and Master Catalog reference number. Multiple sequence alignments and phylogenetic trees
corresponding to these entries can be obtained from EraGen Biosciences (http://www.eragen.com).
Genes that appear on this list appear for several possible reasons. Branches resulting from
changes during speciation events to orthologues or following gene duplication events in paralogues
will appear. Because this search was done without knowledge of genomic location of genes,
paralogues will be indistinguishable from genes with alternative splice patterns or from intraspecific
variation. However, for the purpose of this analysis, all four sets of information (orthologues,
paralogues, changes in alternative splicing detected from cDNA analysis, and intraspecific
variation) reflect organismal mechanisms of adaptation and are relevant for our purposes.
Because there is no reliable truth set for functional adaptation, it is not possible to score the
results of this tool. It is important to remember that a Darwinian definition of function differs from
the functional annotation of genomes and it is possible for a protein to alter or change its function
while retaining the same annotation. To examine this dataset, specific proteins must be examined
In viewing the list of proteins, many of these are already believed to be candidates for
functional recruitment. These include plasminogen activator in vampire bats which is expressed in
saliva and involved in blood clotting , phospholipase A2 in snakes which is expressed in venom
and involved in tissue damage , and MHC genes in mammals which are involved in the immune
system as part of the host-parasite arms race , all having obvious stories to explain why they
may have suffered functional change. Several families are newly identified as being candidates for
functional change, such as the obesity gene protein leptin in primates. A third category of
discovery in TAED is in the detection of episodes of adaptive change at new points in the divergent
evolution of proteins, for example myostatin in bovidae . A sample table from TAED
representing bovidae is presented as Table 1. These are the candidate genes that were identified as
showing rapid sequence evolution emanating from this node in the tree of life. They potentially
include orthologues between two species of bovidae, paralogues, alternatively spliced transcripts,
and intraspecific evolution. The genes on the list play roles in the immune system, body
musclation, and reproduction, traits frequently under selective pressure. These examples and many
others are candidates for further experimental study through cloning from additional species and
from functional study for labs expert in those specific proteins.
This study represents the first comprehensive analysis of Ka/Ks ratios throughout chordata
and embryophyta. While the methods utilized were rough and designed to give a quick snapshot
into a global picture of evolution, this resource should be valuable in the analysis of much of
chordate evolution. Functional genomics analyses of many of the families that have suffered
recruitment and functional change within the past 500 million years will soon emerge. Many of the
episodes of functional change recorded in TAED can be correlated with events in the geological or
paleontological record, in response to changing environments, evolving paleoecology, or the
development of new physiology.
From a phylogenetic perspective, the knowledge of candidate genes evolving at the same
time in the same organism can allow one to begin to ask if entire pathways or phenotypic functions
are under selective pressure at specific points in evolutionary history. Where tertiary structures
exist, mutations along branches can be mapped onto three dimensional structures first to evaluate
the validity of specific examples, and second, to understand the nature of adaptive evolution at a
One statistical analysis of this database indicates that among branches with Ka/Ks ratios>1,
only 3% of synonymous sites had mutated compared with 10% on the average branch in the
database. This is consistent with the notion that episodes of adaptive evolution can be lost in long
branches, as these are combined with prior and/or subsequent episodes characterized by lower
Ka/Ks ratios characteristic of functional constancy. As more genes are sequenced from more
species, the greater articulation of trees will not only increase the accuracy of sequence
14 Genome Biology Deposited research (preprint)
reconstructions, but will also allow us to detect new examples of functional change that are buried
in long branches.
At a biological level, the dataset generated here can be data-mined to provide global pictures
of how evolution has occurred. Correlation of data in this database with that in other functional
databases will enable a leap from genotype to organismal phenotype. Further, the dataset provides
a resource for experimentalists interested in specific genes. The high Ka/Ks ratio in leptin in a
branch connecting primates with rodents may have been a useful predictor of changes of function
for pharmaceutical companies interested in the mouse model of leptin for human obesity. For the
experimentalist, mutations occurring along putatively adaptive branches can be assayed for
functional importance in systems of interest.
Finally, this database represents a growing framework for the study of adaptive evolution.
As datasets become available, changes in gene expression, alternative splicing patterns, imprinting
patterns, recombination events, and other molecular mechanisms of adaptation will be added to this
database in a phylogenetic perspective. The ultimate goal is a dynamic resource depicting
candidate molecular events that are responsible for phenotypic differences between closely related
We thank Eric Gaucher for critical reading of this manuscript. We are indebted to the
National Institutes of Health (Grants HG 01729 and MH 55479) for partial support of this work.
TAED is freely available at http://www.sbc.su.se/~liberles/TAED.html. The Master Catalog can be
obtained free of charge for academic users through email@example.com.
http://genomebiology.com/2001/ 2/4/preprint/0003.1I 5
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18 Genome Biology Deposited research (preprint)
Table 1. A sample listing from TAED indicating candidate adaptively evolving genes detected that
emanated from the bovidae node. These examples potentially include orthologues between
different species of bovidae, paralogues, alternatively spliced cDNAs with potentially different
functional effects, and intraspecific modifications.
The genes with Ka/Ks>1.0 are:
1. T-cell receptor CD3 epsilon chain from Master Catalog family 9668
2. AF092740 cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated protein 4 precursor from Master Catalog family 9698
3. CD5 from Master Catalog family 9700
4. AF 110984 intercellular adhesion molecule-1 precursor from Master Catalog family 9802
5. interferon alpha/beta receptor-2 from Master Catalog family 9817
6. AFD 2 ', ,I : pregnancy-associated glycoprotein 6 from Master Catalog family 15612
7. MCH OVAR-DQ-ALPHA1 from Master Catalog family 15669
8. major histocompatibility complex class II from Master Catalog family 21739
9. TCR gamma from Master Catalog family 21940
Additional genes with Ka/Ks>0.6 are:
10. interleukin 2 receptor from Master Catalog family 9745
11. interleukin-3 from Master Catalog family 9775
12. AF019622 myostatin; growth/differentiation factor-8; GDF-8 from Master Catalog family 20325
13. Fas gene product from Master Catalog family 21743
14. calpastatin from Master Catalog family 21751
15. prolactin receptor from Master Catalog family 21853
16. pre-pro serum albumin from Master Catalog family 21864
17. immunoglobulin gamma-1 chain from Master Catalog family 21881
18. AF110984 intercellular adhesion molecule-1 precursor from Master Catalog family 21997