I have a question regarding a specific term that describes the variant of existing genes. I am analyzing whole-genome sequencing of a bacterial isolate. I found there are a large number of genes that have partial sequence identity or subject/query coverage to the known reference genes.

Now I know that by looking at sequence identity and coverage may not be enough to analyze the genes. I know some gene can have 30% sequence identity and still folded the same way as the original genes. However, let's say these genes are truly variant of the existing genes based off sequence identity. What is the term to call them?

My PI told me they are rapidly evolving genes. I searched some paper and found rapidly evolving genes are genes that are subjected to positive selection. While I agree for some of these are rapidly evolving genes as they probably subject to positive selection, I cannot see that all of the genes actually undergoes selection at same time. I am wondering if there is another term to call these gene variants. If there is any paper to define them that will be great.



1 Answer 1



From wikipedia > allele

An allele is a variant form of a given gene

I somewhat disagree with this definition in the sense that it is not general enough. An allele is a variant at any locus (locus = position in the genome). You can talk about allele at non-coding sequences. Also, if you are talking about a coding sequence, you can define different sequences as belonging to different alleles whether or not their protein products differ in function or not. The proteins might even be the exact same one for two different alleles if the only difference between these alleles concerns a synonymous mutation (or a mutation in an intron).

You can feel free to define that different sequences as being different alleles by any kind of arbitrary threshold measure. You will just need to define it. For example, you can define that different sequences are different alleles only if they have at least 5% pairwise differences or if you found out by some biophysics computation that they ought to fold differently or for whatever another arbitrary measure.

The term allele is used very often in evolutionary biology and you'll find its usage in any intro course to evolutionary biology.

Rapidly evolving genes

As far as I know, there are no commonly agreed upon definition for what a rapidly evolving gene is. To me, a rapidly evolving gene is simply a coding sequence which evolved more rapidly than other reference sequences. Per se, although it would very likely involve positive selection, I don't think it is a requisite by the definition of rapidly evolving genes. It could, for example, be caused by a very high mutation rate at this particular sequence or by balancing selection causing any new rare alleles to be beneficial.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer. Yes, I am mainly talking about coding sequences. I will try to find a better definition of rapidly evolving genes. The reason I don't want to use positive selection as definition for rapidly evolving genes because it make it sounds like there are over half of my coding sequence are under positive selection which doesn't make sense to me. If they are under selection and are mutating fast enough that should be better. $\endgroup$
    – Norman Kuo
    Jun 9, 2018 at 18:13

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