Neutral and adaptive variation in gene expression

Andrew Whitehead, Douglas L. Crawford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

292 Scopus citations


Variation among populations in gene expression should be related to the accumulation of random-neutral changes and evolution by natural selection. The following evolutionary analysis has general applicability to biological and medical science because it accounts for genetic relatedness and identifies patterns of expression variation that are affected by natural selection. To identify genes evolving by natural selection, we allocate the maximum among-population variation to genetic distance and then examine the remaining variation relative to a hypothesized important ecological parameter (temperature). These analyses measure the expression of metabolic genes in common-gardened populations of the fish Fundulus heteroclitus whose habitat is distributed along a steep thermal gradient. Although much of the variation in gene expression fits a null model of neutral drift, the variation in expression for 22% of the genes that regress with habitat temperature was far greater than could be accounted for by genetic distance alone. The most parsimonious explanation for among-population variation for these genes is evolution by natural selection. In addition, many metabolic genes have patterns of variation incongruent with neutral evolution: They have too much or too little variation. These patterns of biological variation in expression may reflect important physiological or ecological functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5425-5430
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
StatePublished - Apr 4 2006


  • Evolutionary analysis
  • Fundulus
  • Genomics
  • Microarray
  • Phylogenetic comparative approach

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • General


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