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. 2005 Aug;86(1):53-63.
doi: 10.1017/S0016672305007688.

Neutral Mutation as the Source of Genetic Variation in Life History Traits


Neutral Mutation as the Source of Genetic Variation in Life History Traits

Krunoslav Brcić-Kostić. Genet Res. .


The mechanism underlying the maintenance of adaptive genetic variation is a long-standing question in evolutionary genetics. There are two concepts (mutation-selection balance and balancing selection) which are based on the phenotypic differences between alleles. Mutation - selection balance and balancing selection cannot properly explain the process of gene substitution, i.e. the molecular evolution of quantitative trait loci affecting fitness. I assume that such loci have non-essential functions (small effects on fitness), and that they have the potential to evolve into new functions and acquire new adaptations. Here I show that a high amount of neutral polymorphism at these loci can exist in real populations. Consistent with this, I propose a hypothesis for the maintenance of genetic variation in life history traits which can be efficient for the fixation of alleles with very small selective advantage. The hypothesis is based on neutral polymorphism at quantitative trait loci and both neutral and adaptive gene substitutions. The model of neutral - adaptive conversion (NAC) assumes that neutral alleles are not neutral indefinitely, and that in specific and very rare situations phenotypic (relative fitness) differences between them can appear. In this paper I focus on NAC due to phenotypic plasticity of neutral alleles. The important evolutionary consequence of NAC could be the increased adaptive potential of a population. Loci responsible for adaptation should be fast evolving genes with minimally discernible phenotypic effects, and the recent discovery of genes with such characteristics implicates them as suitable candidates for loci involved in adaptation.

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