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Genetics. 1995 Jan;139(1):287-97.

Reduced genetic load revealed by slow inbreeding in Drosophila melanogaster.

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  • 1School of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Sydney, Australia.


The rate of decline in reproductive fitness in populations of Drosophila melanogaster inbred at an initial rate of approximately 1% per generation has been investigated under both competitive and noncompetitive conditions. Breeding population size was variable in the inbred lines with an estimated harmonic mean of 66.7 +/- 2.2. Of the 60 lines maintained without reserves, 75% survived a period of 210 generations of slow inbreeding and were then rapidly inbred by full-sib mating to near-homozygosity. The initial rate of inbreeding was estimated to be 0.96 +/- 0.16% per generation, corresponding to an effective population size of approximately 50. However, the rate of inbreeding declined significantly with time to average only 0.52 +/- 0.08% per generation over the 210 generation period, most likely due to associative overdominance built up by genetic sampling and selection in the small populations. The total inbreeding depression in fitness was estimated to be 87 +/- 3% for competitive ability and 27 +/- 5% for fitness under uncrowded conditions, corresponding to rates of decline of 2.0 +/- 0.3 and 0.32 +/- 0.07%, respectively, per 1% increase in the inbreeding coefficient. The frequency of lethal second chromosomes in the resultant near-homozygous lines was of the order of 5%, lethal free second chromosomes showed a mean viability under both crowded and uncrowded conditions of approximately 95%, and their population cage fitness was 60% that of Cy/+ heterozygotes. It can be concluded that homozygous genotypes from which deleterious genes of major effect have been eliminated during slow inbreeding may show far less depression in reproductive fitness than suggested by earlier studies of wild chromosome homozygotes. The loss in fitness due to homozygosity throughout the entire genome may be as little as 85-90% under competitive conditions, and 25-30% in an optimal environment.

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