Distribution of Fitness Effects Among Beneficial Mutations Before Selection in Experimental Populations of Bacteria

Nat Genet. 2006 Apr;38(4):484-8. doi: 10.1038/ng1751. Epub 2006 Mar 19.


The extent to which a population diverges from its ancestor through adaptive evolution depends on variation supplied by novel beneficial mutations. Extending earlier work, recent theory makes two predictions that seem to be robust to biological details: the distribution of fitness effects among beneficial mutations before selection should be (i) exponential and (ii) invariant, meaning it is always exponential regardless of the fitness rank of the wild-type allele. Here we test these predictions by assaying the fitness of 665 independently derived single-step mutations in the bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens across a range of environments. We show that the distribution of fitness effects among beneficial mutations is indistinguishable from an exponential despite marked variation in the fitness rank of the wild type across environments. These results suggest that the initial step in adaptive evolution--the production of novel beneficial mutants from which selection sorts--is very general, being characterized by an approximately exponential distribution with many mutations of small effect and few of large effect. We also document substantial variation in the pleiotropic costs of antibiotic resistance, a result that may have implications for strategies aimed at eliminating resistant pathogens in animal and human populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Mutation*
  • Pseudomonas fluorescens / genetics*
  • Pseudomonas fluorescens / physiology