The effects of sex and mutation rate on adaptation in test tubes and to mouse hosts by Saccharomyces cerevisiae

Evolution. 2005 Feb;59(2):431-8.


Some hypotheses for the evolution of sex focus on adaptation to changing or heterogeneous environments, but these hypotheses have rarely been tested. We tested for advantages of sex and of increased mutation rates in yeast strains in two contrasting environments: a standard and relatively homogeneous laboratory environment of minimal medium in test tubes, and the variable environment of a mouse brain experienced by pathogenic strains. Evolving populations were founded as equal mixtures of sexual and obligately asexual genotypes. In the sexuals, cycles of sporulation, meiosis, and mating were induced approximately every 50 mitotic generations, with the asexuals undergoing sporulation but not ploidy cycles or recombination. In both environments, replicate negative control populations established with the same pair of strains were propagated with neither mating nor meiosis. In test tubes with no sex induced, sexuals were fixed in all five replicates within 250 mitotic generations, whereas in mice with no sex induced, asexuals were fixed in all four replicates by 170 generations. Inducing sex altered these outcomes in opposite directions in test tubes and mice, decreasing the fixation frequencies of sexuals in test tubes but increasing them in mice. These contrasts with asexual controls suggest an advantage for sex in mice but not in test tubes, although there was no difference between test tubes and mice in the numbers of populations fixed-for sexuals. In analogous experiments testing for an advantage of increased mutation rates, wild-type genotypes became fixed at the expense of mutators in every replicate of both test tube and mouse populations, indicating a disadvantage for mutators in both environments. Increased rates of point mutation do not appear to accelerate adaptation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Brain / microbiology
  • DNA Primers
  • Environment
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Genotype
  • Mice / microbiology
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Reproduction / physiology
  • Reproduction, Asexual / physiology
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / physiology
  • Sex*


  • DNA Primers