Are Synonymous Substitutions in Flowering Plant Mitochondria Neutral?

Emily L. Wynn, Alan C. Christensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Angiosperm mitochondrial genes appear to have very low mutation rates, while non-gene regions expand, diverge, and rearrange quickly. One possible explanation for this disparity is that synonymous substitutions in plant mitochondrial genes are not truly neutral and selection keeps their occurrence low. If this were true, the explanation for the disparity in mutation rates in genes and non-genes needs to consider selection as well as mechanisms of DNA repair. Rps14 is co-transcribed with cob and rpl5 in most plant mitochondrial genomes, but in some genomes, rps14 has been duplicated to the nucleus leaving a pseudogene in the mitochondria. This provides an opportunity to compare neutral substitution rates in pseudogenes with synonymous substitution rates in the orthologs. Genes and pseudogenes of rps14 have been aligned among different species and the mutation rates have been calculated. Neutral substitution rates in pseudogenes and synonymous substitution rates in genes are significantly different, providing evidence that synonymous substitutions in plant mitochondrial genes are not completely neutral. The non-neutrality is not sufficient to completely explain the exceptionally low mutation rates in land plant mitochondrial genomes, but selective forces appear to play a small role.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-135
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Molecular Evolution
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Mutation rate
  • Neutral mutation
  • Plant mitochondria
  • Pseudogene
  • Synonymous substitutions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics

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