The population genetics of adaptation: the adaptation of DNA sequences

Evolution. 2002 Jul;56(7):1317-30. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2002.tb01446.x.


I describe several patterns characterizing the genetics of adaptation at the DNA level. Following Gillespie (1983, 1984, 1991), I consider a population presently fixed for the ith best allele at a locus and study the sequential substitution of favorable mutations that results in fixation of the fittest DNA sequence locally available. Given a wild type sequence that is less than optimal, I derive the fitness rank of the next allele typically fixed by natural selection as well as the mean and variance of the jump in fitness that results when natural selection drives a substitution. Looking over the whole series of substitutions required to reach the best allele, I show that the mean fitness jumps occurring throughout an adaptive walk are constrained to a twofold window of values, assuming only that adaptation begins from a reasonably fit allele. I also show that the first substitution and the substitution of largest effect account for a large share of the total fitness increase during adaptation. I further show that the distribution of selection coefficients fixed throughout such an adaptive walk is exponential (ignoring mutations of small effect), a finding reminiscent of that seen in Fisher's geometric model of adaptation. Last, I show that adaptation by natural selection behaves in several respects as the average of two idealized forms of adaptation, perfect and random.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics*
  • Alleles
  • Biological Evolution
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Genotype
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Mutation*
  • Selection, Genetic