Background: The rate at which beneficial mutations accumulate determines how fast asexual populations evolve, but this is only partially understood. Some recent clonal-interference models suggest that evolution in large asexual populations is limited because smaller beneficial mutations are outcompeted by larger beneficial mutations that occur in different lineages within the same population. This analysis assumes that the important mutations fix one at a time; it ignores multiple beneficial mutations that occur in the lineage of an earlier beneficial mutation, before the first mutation in the series can fix. We focus on the effects of such multiple mutations.
Results: Our analysis predicts that the variation in fitness maintained by a continuously evolving population increases as the logarithm of the population size and logarithm of the mutation rate and thus yields a similar logarithmic increase in the speed of evolution. To test these predictions, we evolved asexual budding yeast in glucose-limited media at a range of population sizes and mutation rates.
Conclusions: We find that their evolution is dominated by the accumulation of multiple mutations of moderate effect. Our results agree with our theoretical predictions and are inconsistent with the one-by-one fixation of mutants assumed by recent clonal-interference analysis.