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Model-based inference of punctuated molecular evolution

Marc Manceau, Julie Marin, Hélène Morlon, Amaury Lambert


In standard models of molecular evolution, DNA sequences evolve through asynchronous substitutions according to Poisson processes with a constant rate (called the molecular clock) or a rate that can vary (relaxed clock). However, DNA sequences can also undergo episodes of fast divergence that will appear as synchronous substitutions affecting several sites simultaneously at the macroevolutionary time scale. Here, we develop a model, that we call the Relaxed Clock with Spikes model (RCS), combining basal, clock-like molecular substitutions with episodes of fast divergence called spikes arising at speciation events. Given a multiple sequence alignment and its time-calibrated species phylogeny, our model is able to detect speciation events (including hidden ones) co-occurring with spike events and to estimate the probability and amplitude of these spikes on the phylogeny. We identify the conditions under which spikes can be distinguished from the natural variance of the clock-like component of molecular substitutions and from variations of the clock. We apply the method to genes underlying snake venom proteins and identify several spikes at gene-specific locations in the phylogeny. This work should pave the way for analyses relying on whole genomes to inform on modes of species diversification.

More information

Mol Biol Evol. 2020 Jun 10 ; msaa144. doi : 10.1093/molbev/msaa144.