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The application of microsatellites in evolutionary studies requires an understanding of the patterns governing their evolution in different species. The finding that homologous microsatellite loci are longer, i.e., containing more repeat units, in human and in other primates has been taken as evidence for directional microsatellite evolution and for a difference in the rate of evolution between species. However, it has been argued that this finding is an inevitable consequence of biased selection of longer-than-average microsatellites in human, because cloning procedures are adopted to generate polymorphic and, hence, long markers. As a test of this hypothesis, we conducted a reciprocal comparison of the lengths of microsatellite loci in cattle and sheep using markers derived from the bovine genome as well as the ovine genome. In both cases, amplification products were longer in the focal species, and loci were also more polymorphic in the species from which they were originally cloned. The crossing pattern that we found suggests that interspecific length differences detected at homologous microsatellite loci are the result of biased selection of loci associated with cloning procedures. Hence, comparisons of microsatellite evolution between species are flawed unless they are based on reciprocal analyses or on genuinely random selection of loci with respect to repeat length.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Biol Evol

Publication Date





854 - 860


Animals, Bias, Cattle, Evolution, Molecular, Genetic Markers, Genetic Variation, Humans, Microsatellite Repeats, Polymerase Chain Reaction, Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid, Sheep