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J Evol Biol. 2009 Mar;22(3):536-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2008.01673.x. Epub 2008 Dec 23.

Persistence of costly novel genes in the absence of positive selection.

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  • 1Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution, Université Montpellier II, Montpellier Cedex, France.


Many genetic changes that ultimately lead to adaptive evolution come with a short-term cost expressed in terms of reduced survival and reproduction. In the absence of genetic drift, it is unclear how such costly mutations may persist. Here we experimentally demonstrate that parasites can promote the persistence of costly genetic variants. We employed a genetically engineered strain (GMMO) of the bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens as a model of the acquisition of a new gene either through a major mutation or through horizontal transfer, and examined its persistence in different evolving communities comprising an ancestral strain and a lytic bacteriophage. Whereas competition resulted in the elimination of the GMMO, inclusion of the phage promoted GMMO persistence. We provide evidence for why this effect is due to the differential susceptibility of GMMO and ancestral bacteria to phage.

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