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Genetics. 2003 Jan;163(1):147-57.

Population genetics of Caenorhabditis elegans: the paradox of low polymorphism in a widespread species.

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Department of Genetics, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey 08854-8082, USA.


Caenorhabditis elegans has become one of the most widely used model research organisms, yet we have little information on evolutionary processes and recent evolutionary history of this widespread species. We examined patterns of variation at 20 microsatellite loci in a sample of 23 natural isolates of C. elegans from various parts of the world. One-half of the loci were monomorphic among all strains, and overall genetic variation at microsatellite loci was low, relative to most other species. Some population structure was detected, but there was no association between the genetic and geographic distances among different natural isolates. Thus, despite the nearly worldwide occurrence of C. elegans, little evidence was found for local adaptation in strains derived from different parts of the world. The low levels of genetic variation within and among populations suggest that recent colonization and population expansion might have occurred. However, the patterns of variation are not consistent with population expansion. A possible explanation for the observed patterns is the action of background selection to reduce polymorphism, coupled with ongoing gene flow among populations worldwide.

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