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Nature. 2002 Dec 12;420(6916):664-6.

Sex releases the speed limit on evolution.

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


Explaining the evolutionary maintenance of sex remains a key problem in evolutionary biology. One potential benefit of sex is that it may allow a more rapid adaptive response when environmental conditions change, by increasing the efficiency with which selection can fix beneficial mutations. Here I show that sex can increase the rate of adaptation in the facultatively sexual single-celled chlorophyte Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, but that the benefits of sex depend crucially on the size of the population that is adapting: sex has a marked effect in large populations but little effect in small populations. Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the benefits of sex in a novel environment, including stochastic effects in small populations, clonal interference and epistasis between beneficial alleles. These results indicate that clonal interference is important in this system.

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