Send to

Choose Destination
J Evol Biol. 2014 Jan;27(1):161-9. doi: 10.1111/jeb.12284. Epub 2013 Dec 16.

The effect of population bottlenecks on mutation rate evolution in asexual populations.

Author information

Center for Computational Molecular Biology, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA.
Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


In the absence of recombination, a mutator allele can spread through a population by hitchhiking with beneficial mutations that appear in its genetic background. Theoretical studies over the past decade have shown that the survival and fixation probability of beneficial mutations can be severely reduced by population size bottlenecks. Here, we use computational modelling and evolution experiments with the yeast S. cerevisiae to examine whether population bottlenecks can affect mutator dynamics in adapting asexual populations. In simulation, we show that population bottlenecks can inhibit mutator hitchhiking with beneficial mutations and are most effective at lower beneficial mutation supply rates. We then subjected experimental populations of yeast propagated at the same effective population size to three different bottleneck regimes and observed that the speed of mutator hitchhiking was significantly slower at smaller bottlenecks, consistent with our theoretical expectations. Our results, thus, suggest that bottlenecks can be an important factor in mutation rate evolution and can in certain circumstances act to stabilize or, at least, delay the progressive elevation of mutation rates in asexual populations. Additionally, our findings provide the first experimental support for the theoretically postulated effect of population bottlenecks on beneficial mutations and demonstrate the usefulness of studying mutator frequency dynamics for understanding the underlying dynamics of fitness-affecting mutations.


asexual populations; beneficial mutations; hitchhiking; mutation rate; population bottlenecks; yeast

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center