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Genetics. 1990 Jan;124(1):175-85.

Fluctuation analysis: the probability distribution of the number of mutants under different conditions.

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Department of Mathematics, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912.


In the 47 years since fluctuation analysis was introduced by Luria and Delbrück, it has been widely used to calculate mutation rates. Up to now, in spite of the importance of such calculations, the probability distribution of the number of mutants that will appear in a fluctuation experiment has been known only under the restrictive, and possibly unrealistic, assumptions: (1) that the mutation rate is exactly proportional to the growth rate and (2) that all mutants grow at a rate that is a constant multiple of the growth rate of the original cells. In this paper, we approach the distribution of the number of mutants from a new point of view that will enable researchers to calculate the distribution to be expected using assumptions that they believe to be closer to biological reality. The new idea is to classify mutations according to the number of observable mutants that derive from the mutation when the culture is selectively plated. This approach also simplifies the calculations in situations where two, or many, kinds of mutation may occur in a single culture.

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