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Analysing recombination in nucleotide sequences


David Posada, Fax: +34 986 812556; E-mail:


Throughout the living world, genetic recombination and nucleotide substitution are the primary processes that create the genetic variation upon which natural selection acts. Just as analyses of substitution patterns can reveal a great deal about evolution, so too can analyses of recombination. Evidence of genetic recombination within the genomes of apparently asexual species can equate with evidence of cryptic sexuality. In sexually reproducing species, nonrandom patterns of sequence exchange can provide direct evidence of population subdivisions that prevent certain individuals from mating. Although an interesting topic in its own right, an important reason for analysing recombination is to account for its potentially disruptive influences on various phylogenetic-based molecular evolution analyses. Specifically, the evolutionary histories of recombinant sequences cannot be accurately described by standard bifurcating phylogenetic trees. Taking recombination into account can therefore be pivotal to the success of selection, molecular clock and various other analyses that require adequate modelling of shared ancestry and draw increased power from accurately inferred phylogenetic trees. Here, we review various computational approaches to studying recombination and provide guidelines both on how to gain insights into this important evolutionary process and on how it can be properly accounted for during molecular evolution studies.