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Genetics. 1988 May;119(1):213-21.

Evolution of bacterial transformation: is sex with dead cells ever better than no sex at all?

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Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138.


Computer simulations of bacterial transformation are used to show that, under a wide range of biologically reasonable assumptions, transforming populations undergoing deleterious mutation and selection have a higher mean fitness at equilibrium than asexual populations. The source of transforming DNA, the amount of DNA taken up by each transforming cell, and the relationship between number of mutations and cell viability (the fitness function) are important factors. When the DNA source is living cells, transformation resembles meiotic sex. When the DNA source is cells killed by selection against mutations, transformation increases the average number of mutations per genome but can nevertheless increase the mean fitness of the population at equilibrium. In a model of regulated transformation, in which the most fit cells of a transforming population do not transform, transforming populations are always fitter at equilibrium than asexual populations. These results show that transformation can reduce mutation load.

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