Molecular evolutionary processes and conflicting gene trees: The hominoid case



Molecular evolutionary processes modify DNA over time, creating both newly derived substitutions shared by related descendant lineages (phylogenetic signal) and “false” similarities which confound phylogenetic reconstruction (homoplasy). However, some types of DNA regions, for example those containing tandem duplicate repeats, are preferentially subject to homoplasy-inducing processes such as sporadically occurring concerted evolution and DNA insertion/deletion. This added level of homoplasic “noise” can make DNA regions with repeats less reliable in phylogenetic reconstruction than those without repeats. Most molecular datasets which distinguish among African hominoids support a human-chimpanzee clade; the most notable exception is from the involucrin gene. However, phylogenetic resolution supporting a chimpanzee-gorilla clade is based entirely on involucrin DNA repeat regions. This is problematic because (1) involucrin repeats are difficult to align, and published alignments are contradictory; (2) involucrin repeats are subject to DNA insertion/deletion; (3) gorillas are polymorphic in that some do not have repeats reported to be synapomorphies linking chimpanzees and gorillas. Gene tree/species tree conflicts can occur due to the sorting of ancestrally polymorphic alleles during speciation. Because hominoid females transfer between groups, mitochondrial and nuclear gene flow occur to the same extent, and the probability of conflict between mitochondrial and nuclear gene trees is theoretically low. When hominoid intraspecific mitochondrial variability is taken into account [based on cytochrome oxidase subunit II (COII) gene sequences], humans and chimpanzees are most closely related, showing the same relative degree of separation from gorillas as when single individuals representing species are analyzed. Conflicting molecular phylogenies can be explained in terms of molecular evolutionary processes and sorting of ancient polymorphisms. This perspective can enhance our understanding of hominoid molecular phylogenies. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.