Trans-species polymorphism (TSP) is the occurrence of similar alleles in related species. Excluding instances in which the similarity arose by convergent evolution, TSP is generated by the passage of alleles from ancestral to descendant species. Closely related, recently diverged species, such as those of the Lake Victoria cichlid flock, may share neutral alleles, but long-lasting TSPs occur only in genetic systems evolving under balancing selection. Two such systems have been studied extensively, the major histocompatibility complex (Mhc) of jawed vertebrates and the self-incompatibility (SI) system of flowering plants. Allelic lineages that diverged many millions of years ago and passed through numerous speciation events have been described in both systems. The lineages may differ at up to 50% of their coding sites, both synonymous and nonsynonymous. The differences arise by the process of incorporation of mutations, which is different from the process of fixation. TSP, on the one hand, complicates phylogenetic analysis, but on the other, it is a useful tool for the study of speciation.
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