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Genetics. 2010 Jun;185(2):603-9. doi: 10.1534/genetics.110.115162. Epub 2010 Apr 9.

Distribution of fitness effects caused by single-nucleotide substitutions in bacteriophage f1.

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Departament de Genètica, Institut Cavanilles de Biodiversitat i Biologia Evolutiva, Universitat de València, 46980 València, Spain.


Empirical knowledge of the fitness effects of mutations is important for understanding many evolutionary processes, yet this knowledge is often hampered by several sources of measurement error and bias. Most of these problems can be solved using site-directed mutagenesis to engineer single mutations, an approach particularly suited for viruses due to their small genomes. Here, we used this technique to measure the fitness effect of 100 single-nucleotide substitutions in the bacteriophage f1, a filamentous single-strand DNA virus. We found that approximately one-fifth of all mutations are lethal. Viable ones reduced fitness by 11% on average and were accurately described by a log-normal distribution. More than 90% of synonymous substitutions were selectively neutral, while those affecting intergenic regions reduced fitness by 14% on average. Mutations leading to amino acid substitutions had an overall mean deleterious effect of 37%, which increased to 45% for those changing the amino acid polarity. Interestingly, mutations affecting early steps of the infection cycle tended to be more deleterious than those affecting late steps. Finally, we observed at least two beneficial mutations. Our results confirm that high mutational sensitivity is a general property of viruses with small genomes, including RNA and single-strand DNA viruses infecting animals, plants, and bacteria.

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