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Data from: Experiments on the role of deleterious mutations as stepping stones in adaptive evolution

Cite this dataset

Covert III, Arthur W.; Lenski, Richard E.; Wilke, Claus O.; Ofria, Charles (2013). Data from: Experiments on the role of deleterious mutations as stepping stones in adaptive evolution [Dataset]. Dryad.


Many evolutionary studies assume that deleterious mutations necessarily impede adaptive evolution. However, a later mutation that is conditionally beneficial may interact with a deleterious predecessor before it is eliminated, thereby providing access to adaptations that might otherwise be inaccessible. It is unknown whether such sign-epistatic recoveries are inconsequential events or an important factor in evolution, owing to the difficulty of monitoring the effects and fates of all mutations during experiments with biological organisms. Here, we used digital organisms to compare the extent of adaptive evolution in populations when deleterious mutations were disallowed with control populations in which such mutations were allowed. Significantly higher fitness levels were achieved over the long term in the control populations because some of the deleterious mutations served as stepping stones across otherwise impassable fitness valleys. As a consequence, initially deleterious mutations facilitated the evolution of complex, beneficial functions. We also examined the effects of disallowing neutral mutations, of varying the mutation rate, and of sexual recombination. Populations evolving without neutral mutations were able to leverage deleterious and compensatory mutation pairs to overcome, at least partially, the absence of neutral mutations. Substantially raising or lowering the mutation rate reduced or eliminated the long-term benefit of deleterious mutations, but introducing recombination did not. Our work demonstrates that deleterious mutations can play an important role in adaptive evolution under at least some conditions.

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