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Evolution. 2019 Jan;73(1):111-114. doi: 10.1111/evo.13650. Epub 2018 Nov 27.

The importance of the Neutral Theory in 1968 and 50 years on: A response to Kern and Hahn 2018.

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School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona.
Laboratory of Genetics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.
Leibniz-Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science, Berlin, Germany.
Department of Molecular Biology & Genetics, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
Center for Mechanisms of Evolution, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona.
Institute of Evolutionary Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.


A recent article reassessing the Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution claims that it is no longer as important as is widely believed. The authors argue that "the neutral theory was supported by unreliable theoretical and empirical evidence from the beginning, and that in light of modern, genome-scale data, we can firmly reject its universality." Claiming that "the neutral theory has been overwhelmingly rejected," they propose instead that natural selection is the major force shaping both between-species divergence and within-species variation. Although this is probably a minority view, it is important to evaluate such claims carefully in the context of current knowledge, as inaccuracies can sometimes morph into an accepted narrative for those not familiar with the underlying science. We here critically examine and ultimately reject Kern and Hahn's arguments and assessment, and instead propose that it is now abundantly clear that the foundational ideas presented five decades ago by Kimura and Ohta are indeed correct.


Population Genetics; The Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution


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