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Mutation, selection, and the prevalence of the C. elegans heat-sensitive mortal germline phenotype


Saber, Sayran; Snyder, Michael; Rajaei, Moein; Baer, Charles (2022), Mutation, selection, and the prevalence of the C. elegans heat-sensitive mortal germline phenotype, Dryad, Dataset,


C. elegans strains with the heat-sensitive mortal germline (Mrt) phenotype become progressively sterile over the course of a few tens of generations when maintained at temperatures near the upper range of C. elegans' tolerance. Mrt is transgenerationally-heritable, and proximately under epigenetic control. Previous studies have suggested that Mrt presents a relatively large mutational target, and that Mrt is not uncommon in natural populations of C. elegans. The Mrt phenotype is not monolithic. Some strains exhibit a strong Mrt phenotype, in which individuals invariably become sterile over a few generations, whereas other strains show a weaker (less penetrant) phenotype in which the onset of sterility is slower and more stochastic. We present results in which we (1) quantify the rate of mutation to the Mrt phenotype, and (2) quantify the frequency of Mrt in a collection of 95 wild isolates. Over the course of ~16,000 meioses, we detected one mutation to a strong Mrt phenotype, resulting in a point estimate of the mutation rate UMrt≈ 6 10-5/genome/generation. We detected no mutations to a weak Mrt phenotype. 6/95 wild isolates have a strong Mrt phenotype, and although quantification of the weak Mrt phenotype is inexact, the weak Mrt phenotype is not rare in nature. We estimate a strength of selection against mutations conferring the strong Mrt phenotype ≈0.1%, similar to selection against mutations affecting competitive fitness. The appreciable frequency of weak Mrt variants in nature combined with the low mutation rate suggests that Mrt may be maintained by balancing selection.


National Institutes of Health, Award: GM127433