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Genetics. 1999 Apr;151(4):1621-31.

Beneficial mutations, hitchhiking and the evolution of mutation rates in sexual populations.

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Institute of Cell, Animal and Population Biology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, Scotland.


Natural selection acts in three ways on heritable variation for mutation rates. A modifier allele that increases the mutation rate is (i) disfavored due to association with deleterious mutations, but is also favored due to (ii) association with beneficial mutations and (iii) the reduced costs of lower fidelity replication. When a unique beneficial mutation arises and sweeps to fixation, genetic hitchhiking may cause a substantial change in the frequency of a modifier of mutation rate. In previous studies of the evolution of mutation rates in sexual populations, this effect has been underestimated. This article models the long-term effect of a series of such hitchhiking events and determines the resulting strength of indirect selection on the modifier. This is compared to the indirect selection due to deleterious mutations, when both types of mutations are randomly scattered over a given genetic map. Relative to an asexual population, increased levels of recombination reduce the effects of beneficial mutations more rapidly than those of deleterious mutations. However, the role of beneficial mutations in determining the evolutionarily stable mutation rate may still be significant if the function describing the cost of high-fidelity replication has a shallow gradient.

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