Variable mutation rates as an adaptive strategy in replicator populations

Michael Stich, Susanna C. Manrubia, Ester Lázaro*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    For evolving populations of replicators, there is much evidence that the effect of mutations on fitness depends on the degree of adaptation to the selective pressures at play. In optimized populations, most mutations have deleterious effects, such that low mutation rates are favoured. In contrast to this, in populations thriving in changing environments a larger fraction of mutations have beneficial effects, providing the diversity necessary to adapt to new conditions. What is more, non-adapted populations occasionally benefit from an increase in the mutation rate. Therefore, there is no optimal universal value of the mutation rate and species attempt to adjust it to their momentary adaptive needs. In this work we have used stationary populations of RNA molecules evolving in silico to investigate the relationship between the degree of adaptation of an optimized population and the value of the mutation rate promoting maximal adaptation in a short time to a new selective pressure. Our results show that this value can significantly differ from the optimal value at mutation-selection equilibrium, being strongly influenced by the structure of the population when the adaptive process begins. In the short-term, highly optimized populations containing little variability respond better to environmental changes upon an increase of the mutation rate, whereas populations with a lower degree of optimization but higher variability benefit from reducing the mutation rate to adapt rapidly. These findings show a good agreement with the behaviour exhibited by actual organisms that replicate their genomes under broadly different mutation rates.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere11186
    Number of pages8
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2010

    Bibliographical note

    © 2010 Stich et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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