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PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e50305. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050305. Epub 2012 Nov 21.

Multivariate phenotypic divergence due to the fixation of beneficial mutations in experimentally evolved lineages of a filamentous fungus.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.


The potential for evolutionary change is limited by the availability of genetic variation. Mutations are the ultimate source of new alleles, yet there have been few experimental investigations of the role of novel mutations in multivariate phenotypic evolution. Here, we evaluated the degree of multivariate phenotypic divergence observed in a long-term evolution experiment whereby replicate lineages of the filamentous fungus Aspergillus nidulans were derived from a single genotype and allowed to fix novel (beneficial) mutations while maintained at two different population sizes. We asked three fundamental questions regarding phenotypic divergence following approximately 800 generations of adaptation: (1) whether divergence was limited by mutational supply, (2) whether divergence proceeded in relatively many (few) multivariate directions, and (3) to what degree phenotypic divergence scaled with changes in fitness (i.e. adaptation). We found no evidence that mutational supply limited phenotypic divergence. Divergence also occurred in all possible phenotypic directions, implying that pleiotropy was either weak or sufficiently variable among new mutations so as not to constrain the direction of multivariate evolution. The degree of total phenotypic divergence from the common ancestor was positively correlated with the extent of adaptation. These results are discussed in the context of the evolution of complex phenotypes through the input of adaptive mutations.

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