Send to

Choose Destination
PLoS Genet. 2009 Jun;5(6):e1000520. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000520. Epub 2009 Jun 19.

Avoiding dangerous missense: thermophiles display especially low mutation rates.

Author information

Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC, USA.


Rates of spontaneous mutation have been estimated under optimal growth conditions for a variety of DNA-based microbes, including viruses, bacteria, and eukaryotes. When expressed as genomic mutation rates, most of the values were in the vicinity of 0.003-0.004 with a range of less than two-fold. Because the genome sizes varied by roughly 10(4)-fold, the mutation rates per average base pair varied inversely by a similar factor. Even though the commonality of the observed genomic rates remains unexplained, it implies that mutation rates in unstressed microbes reach values that can be finely tuned by evolution. An insight originating in the 1920s and maturing in the 1960s proposed that the genomic mutation rate would reflect a balance between the deleterious effect of the average mutation and the cost of further reducing the mutation rate. If this view is correct, then increasing the deleterious impact of the average mutation should be countered by reducing the genomic mutation rate. It is a common observation that many neutral or nearly neutral mutations become strongly deleterious at higher temperatures, in which case they are called temperature-sensitive mutations. Recently, the kinds and rates of spontaneous mutations were described for two microbial thermophiles, a bacterium and an archaeon. Using an updated method to extrapolate from mutation-reporter genes to whole genomes reveals that the rate of base substitutions is substantially lower in these two thermophiles than in mesophiles. This result provides the first experimental support for the concept of an evolved balance between the total genomic impact of mutations and the cost of further reducing the basal mutation rate.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Public Library of Science Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center