Perhaps not a surprise to anyone that has dabbled in evolutionary analysis of proteins, Kawahara and Imanishi (BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007) confirm that not every protein evolves via a molecular clock in Saccharomyces sensu scricto. Using everyone’s favorite evolutionary tool, PAML, the authors identify protein lineages via a whole genome scan that evolve relatively slow or fast compared to the rest of the clade. Some changes even appear to be due to the invisible hand of natural selection and independent of the complications that may have arisen during the whole genome duplication in the ancestor of this clade.
It has been previously speculated that, either upon protein duplication or change in the selective regime of the environment, a protein may rapidly evolve at speciation and then, upon obtaining a new, important function, slow down it’s evolutionary rate to a clock-like tempo. One of the black boxes in this hypothesis is whether or not closely related proteins can rapidly diverge. While the authors are not able to identify a mechanism explaining how, their study demonstrates the plausibility of this hypothesis. However, it remains uncertain if proteins that exhibit rapid divergence will subsequently slow down their evolutionary rate later in time.
It’s good to see evolutionary analysis being applied to fungal genomes. With so many sequenced species spanning a great range of phylogenetic distance, the fungal kingdom is poised to provide great insight into the evolution of eukaryotes.