Beneficial fitness effects are not exponential for two viruses

J Mol Evol. 2008 Oct;67(4):368-76. doi: 10.1007/s00239-008-9153-x. Epub 2008 Sep 9.


The distribution of fitness effects for beneficial mutations is of paramount importance in determining the outcome of adaptation. It is generally assumed that fitness effects of beneficial mutations follow an exponential distribution, for example, in theoretical treatments of quantitative genetics, clonal interference, experimental evolution, and the adaptation of DNA sequences. This assumption has been justified by the statistical theory of extreme values, because the fitnesses conferred by beneficial mutations should represent samples from the extreme right tail of the fitness distribution. Yet in extreme value theory, there are three different limiting forms for right tails of distributions, and the exponential describes only those of distributions in the Gumbel domain of attraction. Using beneficial mutations from two viruses, we show for the first time that the Gumbel domain can be rejected in favor of a distribution with a right-truncated tail, thus providing evidence for an upper bound on fitness effects. Our data also violate the common assumption that small-effect beneficial mutations greatly outnumber those of large effect, as they are consistent with a uniform distribution of beneficial effects.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophages / genetics*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Selection, Genetic*