Rates of deleterious mutation and the evolution of sex in Caenorhabditis

J Evol Biol. 2003 Sep;16(5):812-22. doi: 10.1046/j.1420-9101.2003.00596.x.


A variety of models propose that the accumulation of deleterious mutations plays an important role in the evolution of breeding systems. These models make predictions regarding the relative rates of protein evolution and deleterious mutation in taxa with contrasting modes of reproduction. Here we compare available coding sequences from one obligately outcrossing and two primarily selfing species of Caenorhabditis to explore the potential for mutational models to explain the evolution of breeding system in this clade. If deleterious mutations interact synergistically, the mutational deterministic hypothesis predicts that a high genomic deleterious mutation rate (U) will offset the reproductive disadvantage of outcrossing relative to asexual or selfing reproduction. Therefore, C. elegans and C. briggsae (both largely selfing) should both exhibit lower rates of deleterious mutation than the obligately outcrossing relative C. remanei. Using a comparative approach, we estimate U to be equivalent (and < 1) among all three related species. Stochastic mutational models, Muller's ratchet and Hill-Robertson interference, are expected to cause reductions in the effective population size in species that rarely outcross, thereby allowing deleterious mutations to accumulate at an elevated rate. We find only limited support for more rapid molecular evolution in selfing lineages. Overall, our analyses indicate that the evolution of breeding system in this group is unlikely to be explained solely by available mutational models.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Mutation*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Reproduction*