Dramatically elevated rate of mitochondrial substitution in lice (Insecta: Phthiraptera)

Kevin P. Johnson, Robert H. Cruickshank, Richard J. Adams, Vincent S. Smith, Roderic D.M. Page, Dale H. Clayton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Few estimates of relative substitution rates, and the underlying mutation rates, exist between mitochondrial and nuclear genes in insects. Previous estimates for insects indicate a 2-9 times faster substitution rate in mitochondrial genes relative to nuclear genes. Here we use novel methods for estimating relative rates of substitution, which incorporate multiple substitutions, and apply these methods to a group of insects (lice, Order: Phthiraptera). First, we use a modification of copath analysis (branch length regression) to construct independent comparisons of rates, consisting of each branch in a phylogenetic tree. The branch length comparisons use maximum likelihood models to correct for multiple substitution. In addition, we estimate codon-specific rates under maximum likelihood for the different genes and compare these values. Estimates of the relative synonymous substitution rates between a mitochondrial (COI) and nuclear (EF-1α) gene in lice indicate a relative rate of several 100 to 1. This rapid relative mitochondrial rate (> 100 times) is at least an order of magnitude faster than previous estimates for any group of organisms. Comparisons using the same methods for another group of insects (aphids) reveals that this extreme relative rate estimate is not simply attributable to the methods we used, because estimates from aphids are substantially lower. Taxon sampling affects the relative rate estimate, with comparisons involving more closely related taxa resulting in a higher estimate. Relative rate estimates also increase with model complexity, indicating that methods accounting for more multiple substitution estimate higher relative rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-242
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2003


  • COI
  • Elongation factor-1 α
  • Insecta
  • Lice
  • Phthiraptera
  • Substitution rates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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