Contrasting selection pressures on components of the Ras-mediated signal transduction pathway in Drosophila


G. Gibson. Fax: 919 515 3355; E-mail:


The molecular genetics of several signal transduction pathways is well characterized, providing an opportunity to address the nature of the population genetic forces acting on functionally related suites of pleiotropic regulatory genes. Signal transduction is the process by which signals are transmitted from the cell surface to the nucleus or other cellular structures. It plays a fundamental role in regulating a wide range of developmental and physiological processes, many of which are likely to be subject to buffering mechanisms. Here we infer that contrasting selection pressures act on six components of the Ras signal transduction pathway by comparing sequences obtained from 25 alleles of Drosophila melanogaster with one allele of the sibling species D. simulans. The three most upstream components of the cascade, Ras, Drk and polehole, experience strong purifying selection, as they show no fixed amino acid differences between the species and just a handful of rare replacement polymorphisms within D. melanogaster. This portion of the pathway is likely to act as a control point in signal transduction, because the more downstream components Dsor1, corkscrew and Ksr, each show several amino acid replacements between the species. Furthermore, Ksr is nearly monomorphic within D. melanogaster, and application of the HKA and McDonald and Kreitman tests indicate that this gene may have experienced a recent selective sweep, suggesting that modifiers of Ras kinase signalling are the most likely source of quantitative variation associated with this core regulatory pathway.