Send to

Choose Destination
Crit Rev Microbiol. 2003;29(1):25-35.

The directed mutation controversy in an evolutionary context.

Author information

Dept. Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5245, USA.


Neo-Darwinists have long held that random mutations produce genetic differences among individuals, and selection increases the frequency of advantageous alleles. In 1988, Cairns et al. claimed that an environmental pressure can cause advantageous mutations to occur in specific genes to alleviate that particular pressure. Directed mutation, as proposed by Cairns, has been all but eradicated from evolutionary thinking. However, more than a decade of research spurred by the Cairns et al. paper has cast doubt on three neo-Darwinian principles: (1) mutations occur independently of the environment, (2) mutations are due to replication errors, and (3) mutation rates are constant. This mini-review explores the history of the controversy and the decade of research that followed so as to place it in an evolutionary context. Several of the cellular mechanisms and models that explain the increased genetic diversity in populations experiencing adverse environmental pressure are described. In most cases it is clear that the increased genetic diversity is due to breakdowns of cellular machinery or alleles evolved for a purpose other than increasing genetic diversity, rather than to cellular systems that have been evolutionarily selected to increase the genetic diversity in times of stress.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Taylor & Francis
Loading ...
Support Center