The genetics of adaptation for eight microvirid bacteriophages

J Mol Evol. 2009 Sep;69(3):229-39. doi: 10.1007/s00239-009-9267-9. Epub 2009 Aug 20.


Theories of adaptive molecular evolution have recently experienced significant expansion, and their predictions and assumptions have begun to be subjected to rigorous empirical testing. However, these theories focus largely on predicting the first event in adaptive evolution, the fixation of a single beneficial mutation. To address long-term adaptation it is necessary to include new assumptions, but empirical data are needed for guidance. To empirically characterize the general properties of adaptive walks, eight recently isolated relatives of the single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) bacteriophage phiX174 (family Microviridae) were adapted to identical selective conditions. Three of the eight genotypes were adapted in replicate, for a total of 11 adaptive walks. We measured fitness improvement and identified the genetic changes underlying the observed adaptation. Nearly all phages were evolvable; nine of the 11 lineages showed a significant increase in fitness. However, fitness plateaued quickly, and adaptation was achieved through only three substitutions on average. Parallel evolution was rampant, both across replicates of the same genotype as well as across different genotypes, yet adaptation of replicates never proceeded through the exact same set of mutations. Despite this, final fitnesses did not vary significantly among replicates. Final fitnesses did vary significantly across genotypes but not across phylogenetic groupings of genotypes. A positive correlation was found between the number of substitutions in an adaptive walk and the magnitude of fitness improvement, but no correlation was found between starting and ending fitness. These results provide an empirical framework for future adaptation theory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics*
  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Amino Acid Substitution / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Microviridae / genetics*
  • Microviridae / physiology
  • Phylogeny