Quantifying the decanalizing effects of spontaneous mutations in rhabditid nematodes

Am Nat. 2008 Aug;172(2):272-81. doi: 10.1086/589455.


The evolution of canalization, the robustness of the phenotype to environmental or genetic perturbation, has attracted considerable recent interest. A key step toward understanding the evolution of any phenotype is characterizing the rate at which mutation introduces genetic variation for the trait (the mutational variance, V(M)) and the average directional effects of mutations on the trait mean (DeltaM). In this study, the mutational parameters for canalization of productivity and body volume are quantified in two sets of mutation accumulation lines of nematodes in the genus Caenorhabditis and are compared with the mutational parameters for the traits themselves. Four results emerge: (1) spontaneous mutations consistently decanalize the phenotype; (2) the mutational parameters for decanalization, V(M) (quantified as mutational heritability) and DeltaM, are of the same order of magnitude as the same parameters for the traits themselves; (3) the mutational parameters for canalization are roughly correlated with the parameters for the traits themselves across taxa; and (4) there is no evidence that residual segregating overdominant loci contribute to the decay of canalization. These results suggest that canalization is readily evolvable and that any evolutionary factor that causes mutations to accumulate will, on average, decanalize the phenotype.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Size
  • Environment*
  • Genes, Dominant
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Heterozygote
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation*
  • Phenotype*
  • Reproduction
  • Rhabditida / genetics*