BackgroundSeveral studies have investigated the relationships between selective constraints in introns and their length, GC content and location within genes. To date, however, no such investigation has been done in plants. Studies of selective constraints in noncoding DNA have generally involved interspecific comparisons, under the assumption of the same selective pressures acting in each lineage. Such comparisons are limited to cases in which the noncoding sequences are not too strongly diverged so that reliable sequence alignments can be obtained. Here, we investigate selective constraints in a recent segmental duplication that includes 605 paralogous intron pairs that occurred about 7 million years ago in rice (O. sativa).ResultsOur principal findings are: (1) intronic divergence is negatively correlated with intron length, a pattern that has previously been described in Drosophila and mammals; (2) there is a signature of strong purifying selection at splice control sites; (3) first introns are significantly longer and have a higher GC content than other introns; (4) the divergences of first and non-first introns are not significantly different from one another, a pattern that differs from Drosophila and mammals; and (5) short introns are more diverged than four-fold degenerate sites suggesting that selection reduces divergence at four-fold sites.ConclusionOur observation of stronger selective constraints in long introns suggests that functional elements subject to purifying selection may be concentrated within long introns. Our results are consistent with the presence of strong purifying selection at splicing control sites. Selective constraints are not significantly stronger in first introns of rice, as they are in other species.