The evolutionary importance of gene-expression divergence is unclear: some studies suggest that it is an important mechanism for evolution by natural selection, whereas others claim that most between-species regulatory changes are neutral or nearly neutral. We examined global transcriptional divergence patterns in a set of Caenorhabditis elegans mutation-accumulation lines and natural isolate lines to provide insights into the evolutionary importance of transcripiional variation and to discriminate between the forces of mutation and natural selection in shaping the evolution of gene expression. We detected the effects of selection on transcriptional divergence patterns and characterized them with respect to coexpressed gene sets, chromosomal clustering of expression changes and functional gene categories. We directly compared observed transcriptional variation patterns in the mutation-accumulation and natural isolate lines to a neutral model of transcriptome evolution to show that strong stabilizing selection dominates the evolution of transcriptional change for thousands of C. elegans expressed sequences.
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