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Evolution. 2004 Jul;58(7):1403-13.

Adaptive evolution of asexual populations under Muller's ratchet.

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Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA.


We study the population genetics of adaptation in nonequilibrium haploid asexual populations. We find that the accumulation of deleterious mutations, due to the operation of Muller's ratchet, can considerably reduce the rate of fixation of advantageous alleles. Such reduction can be approximated reasonably well by a reduction in the effective population size. In the absence of Muller's ratchet, a beneficial mutation can only become fixed if it creates the best possible genotype; if Muller's ratchet operates, however, mutations initially arising in a nonoptimal genotype can also become fixed in the population, since the loss of the least-loaded class implies that an initially nonoptimal background can become optimal. We show that, while the rate at which adaptive mutations become fixed is reduced, the rate of fixation of deleterious mutations due to the ratchet is not changed by the presence of beneficial mutations as long as the rate of their occurrence is low and the deleterious effects of mutations (s(d)) are higher than the beneficial effects (s(a)). When s(a) > s(d), the advantage of a beneficial mutation can outweigh the deleterious effects of associated mutations. Under these conditions, a beneficial allele can drag to fixation deleterious mutations initially associated with it at a higher rate than in the absence of advantageous alleles. We propose analytical approximations for the rates of accumulation of deleterious and beneficial mutations. Furthermore, when allowing for the possible occurrence of interference between beneficial alleles, we find that the presence of deleterious mutations of either very weak or very strong effect can marginally increase the rate of accumulation of beneficial mutations over that observed in the absence of such deleterious mutations.

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