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Genetics. Jan 2004; 166(1): 19–24.
PMCID: PMC1470714

Drift increases the advantage of sex in RNA bacteriophage Phi6.


The pervasiveness of sex and recombination remains one of the most enigmatic problems in evolutionary biology. According to many theoretical models, recombination can increase the rate of adaptation by restoring genetic variation. However, the potential for genetic drift to generate conditions that produce this outcome has yet to be studied experimentally. We have designed and performed an experiment that reveals the effects of drift on existing genetic variation by minimizing the influence of variation on beneficial mutation rate. Our experiment was conducted in populations of RNA bacteriophage Phi6 initiated from a common source population at varying bottleneck sizes. The segmented genome of this virus results in genetic exchange between viruses that co-infect the same host cell. In response to selection for growth in a high-temperature environment, sexual lines outperformed their asexual counterparts on average. The advantage of sex attenuated with increasing effective population size, implying that the rate of adaptation was limited by clonal interference among segments caused by drift. This is the first empirical evidence that the advantage of sex during adaptation increases with the intensity of drift.

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Selected References

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