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Trends Genet. 2016 Jul;32(7):408-418. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2016.04.005. Epub 2016 May 13.

Can Population Genetics Adapt to Rapid Evolution?

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Department of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Population genetics largely rests on a 'standard model' in which random genetic drift is the dominant force, selective sweeps occur infrequently, and deleterious mutations are purged from the population by purifying selection. Studies of phenotypic evolution in nature reveal a very different picture, with strong selection and rapid heritable trait changes being common. The time-rate scaling of phenotypic evolution suggests that selection on phenotypes is often fluctuating in direction, allowing phenotypes to respond rapidly to environmental fluctuations while remaining within relatively constant bounds over longer periods. Whether such rapid phenotypic evolution undermines the standard model will depend on how many genomic loci typically contribute to strongly selected traits and how phenotypic evolution impacts the dynamics of genetic variation in a population. Population-level sequencing will allow us to dissect the genetic basis of phenotypic evolution and study the evolutionary dynamics of genetic variation through direct measurement of polymorphism trajectories over time.


evolutionary dynamics; fluctuating selection; genotype–phenotype map; population genomics

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