The effects of recombination, mutation and selection on the evolution of the Rp1resistance genes in grasses

Agathe Jouet, Mark Mcmullan, Cock Van Oosterhout

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Plant immune genes, or resistance genes, are involved in a co-evolutionary arms race with a diverse range of pathogens. In agronomically important grasses, such R genes have been extensively studied because of their role in pathogen resistance and in the breeding of resistant cultivars. In this study, we evaluate the importance of recombination, mutation and selection on the evolution of the R gene complex Rp1 of Sorghum, Triticum, Brachypodium, Oryza and Zea. Analyses show that recombination is widespread, and we detected 73 independent instances of sequence exchange, involving on average 1567 of 4692 nucleotides analysed (33.4%). We were able to date 24 interspecific recombination events and found that four occurred postspeciation, which suggests that genetic introgression took place between different grass species. Other interspecific events seemed to have been maintained over long evolutionary time, suggesting the presence of balancing selection. Significant positive selection (i.e. a relative excess of nonsynonymous substitutions (dN/dS>1)) was detected in 17–95 codons (0.42–2.02%). Recombination was significantly associated with areas with high levels of polymorphism but not with an elevated dN/dS ratio. Finally, phylogenetic analyses show that recombination results in a general overestimation of the divergence time (mean = 14.3%) and an alteration of the gene tree topology if the tree is not calibrated. Given that the statistical power to detect recombination is determined by the level of polymorphism of the amplicon as well as the number of sequences analysed, it is likely that many studies have underestimated the importance of recombination relative to the mutation rate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3077-3092
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015


  • genetic recombination
  • introgression
  • phylogenetic dating
  • positive selection
  • resistance genes
  • Poaceae

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