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Genetics. 2008 Jun;179(2):907-16. doi: 10.1534/genetics.108.087122. Epub 2008 May 27.

The distribution of beneficial and fixed mutation fitness effects close to an optimum.

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Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, UMR CNRS 5175, 34295 Montpellier, France.


The distribution of the selection coefficients of beneficial mutations is pivotal to the study of the adaptive process, both at the organismal level (theories of adaptation) and at the gene level (molecular evolution). A now famous result of extreme value theory states that this distribution is an exponential, at least when considering a well-adapted wild type. However, this prediction could be inaccurate under selection for an optimum (because fitness effect distributions have a finite right tail in this case). In this article, we derive the distribution of beneficial mutation effects under a general model of stabilizing selection, with arbitrary selective and mutational covariance between a finite set of traits. We assume a well-adapted wild type, thus taking advantage of the robustness of tail behaviors, as in extreme value theory. We show that, under these general conditions, both beneficial mutation effects and fixed effects (mutations escaping drift loss) are beta distributed. In both cases, the parameters have explicit biological meaning and are empirically measurable; their variation through time can also be predicted. We retrieve the classic exponential distribution as a subcase of the beta when there are a moderate to large number of weakly correlated traits under selection. In this case too, we provide an explicit biological interpretation of the parameters of the distribution. We show by simulations that these conclusions are fairly robust to a lower adaptation of the wild type and discuss the relevance of our findings in the context of adaptation theories and experimental evolution.

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