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Genet Res. 2001 Oct;78(2):149-61.

The speed of Muller's ratchet with background selection, and the degeneration of Y chromosomes.

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Institute of Cell, Animal and Population Biology, University of Edinburgh, Ashworth Laboratories, Kings Buildings, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK.


The rate of accumulation of deleterious mutations by Muller's ratchet is investigated in large asexual haploid populations, for a range of parameters with potential biological relevance. The rate of this process is studied by considering a very simple model in which mutations can have two types of effect: either strongly deleterious or mildly deleterious. It is shown that the rate of accumulation of mildly deleterious mutations can be greatly increased by the presence of strongly deleterious mutations, and that this can be predicted from the associated reduction in effective population size (the background selection effect). We also examine the rate of the ratchet when there are two classes of mutation of similar but unequal effects on fitness. The accuracy of analytical approximations for the rate of this process is analysed. Its possible role in causing the degeneration of Y and neo-Y chromosomes is discussed in the light of our present knowledge of deleterious mutation rates and selection coefficients.

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