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Genetics. 2000 Dec;156(4):1635-47.

A test for epistasis among induced mutations in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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  • 1Institute of Cell, Animal and Population Biology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, United Kingdom.


Synergistic epistasis, in which deleterious mutations tend to magnify each other's effects, is a necessary component of the mutational deterministic hypothesis for the maintenance of sexual production. We tested for epistasis for life-history traits in the soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans by inducing mutations in two genetic backgrounds: a wild-type strain and a set of genetically loaded lines that contain large numbers of independent mildly detrimental mutations. There was no significant difference between the effect of new mutations on the wild-type background and the genetically loaded background for four out of five fitness correlates. In these four cases, the maximum level of epistasis compatible with the data was very low. The fifth trait, late productivity, is not likely to be an important component of fitness. This suggests either that specific environmental conditions are required to cause epistasis or that synergistic epistasis is not a general phenomenon. We also suggest a new mechanism by which deleterious mutations may provide an advantage to sexual reproduction under low selection coefficients.

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