In Escherichia coli, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and Drosophila melanogaster, codon bias may be maintained by a balance among mutation pressure, genetic drift, and natural selection favoring translationally superior codons. Under such an evolutionary model, silent mutations fall into two fitness categories: preferred mutations that increase codon bias and unpreferred changes in the opposite direction. This prediction can be tested by comparing the frequency spectra of synonymous changes segregating within populations; natural selection will elevate the frequencies of advantageous mutations relative to that of deleterious changes. The frequency distributions of preferred and unpreferred mutations differ in the predicted direction among 99 alleles of two D. pseudoobscura genes and five alleles of eight D. simulans genes. This result confirms the existence of fitness classes of silent mutations. Maximum likelihood estimates suggest that selection intensity at silent sites is, on average, very weak in both D. pseudoobscura and D. simulans (|Nes| ≈ 1). Inference of evolutionary processes from within-species sequence variation is often hindered by the assumption of a stationary frequency distribution. This assumption can be avoided when identifying the action of selection and tested when estimating selection intensity.
- Received May 11, 1996.
- Accepted February 10, 1997.
- Copyright © 1997 by the Genetics Society of America