Patterns of codon usage and "silent" DNA divergence suggest that natural selection discriminates among synonymous codons in Drosophila. "Preferred" codons are consistently found in higher frequencies within their synonymous families in Drosophila melanogaster genes. This suggests a simple model of silent DNA evolution where natural selection favors mutations from unpreferred to preferred codons (preferred changes). Changes in the opposite direction, from preferred to unpreferred synonymous codons (unpreferred changes), are selected against. Here, selection on synonymous DNA mutations is investigated by comparing the evolutionary dynamics of these two categories of silent DNA changes. Sequences from outgroups are used to determine the direction of synonymous DNA changes within and between D. melanogaster and Drosophila simulans for five genes. Population genetics theory shows that differences in the fitness effect of mutations can be inferred from the comparison of ratios of polymorphism to divergence. Unpreferred changes show a significantly higher ratio of polymorphism to divergence than preferred changes in the D. simulans lineage, confirming the action of selection at silent sites. An excess of unpreferred fixations in 28 genes suggests a relaxation of selection on synonymous mutations in D. melanogaster. Estimates of selection coefficients for synonymous mutations (3.6 < magnitude of Nes < 1.3) in D. simulans are consistent with the reduced efficacy of natural selection (magnitude of Nes < 1) in the three- to sixfold smaller effective population size of D. melanogaster. Synonymous DNA changes appear to be a prevalent class of weakly selected mutations in Drosophila.
- Copyright © 1995 by the Genetics Society of America