A central objective in biology is to link adaptive evolution in a gene to structural and/or functional phenotypic novelties. Yet most analytic methods make inferences mainly from either phenotypic data or genetic data alone. A small number of models have been developed to infer correlations between the rate of molecular evolution and changes in a discrete or continuous life history trait. But such correlations are not necessarily evidence of adaptation. Here we present a novel approach called the phenotype-genotype branch-site model (PG-BSM) designed to detect evidence of adaptive codon evolution associated with discrete-state phenotype evolution. An episode of adaptation is inferred under standard codon substitution models when there is evidence of positive selection in the form of an elevation in the nonsynonymous-to-synonymous rate ratio ω to a value ω > 1. As it is becoming increasingly clear that ω > 1 can occur without adaptation, the PG-BSM was formulated to infer an instance of adaptive evolution without appealing to evidence of positive selection. The null model makes use of a covarion-like component to account for general heterotachy (i.e., random changes in the evolutionary rate at a site over time). The alternative model employs samples of the phenotypic evolutionary history to test for phenomenological patterns of heterotachy consistent with specific mechanisms of molecular adaptation. These include (i) a persistent increase/decrease in ω at a site following a change in phenotype (the pattern) consistent with an increase/decrease in the functional importance of the site (the mechanism); and (ii) a transient increase in ω at a site along a branch over which the phenotype changed (the pattern) consistent with a change in the site's optimal amino acid (the mechanism). Rejection of the null is followed by post hoc analyses to identify sites with strongest evidence for adaptation in association with changes in the phenotype as well as the most likely evolutionary history of the phenotype. Simulation studies based on a novel method for generating mechanistically realistic signatures of molecular adaptation show that the PG-BSM has good statistical properties. Analyses of three real alignments show that site patterns identified post hoc are consistent with the specific mechanisms of adaptation included in the alternate model. Further simulation studies show that the covarion-like component of the PG-BSM plays a crucial role in mitigating recently discovered statistical pathologies associated with confounding by accounting for heterotachy-by-any-means.
Contains all of the simulated alignments used in the study
Contains the three real alignments used in the study.
A detailed description of the PG-BSM