Evolutionary feedbacks between reproductive mode and mutation rate exacerbate the paradox of sex

Evolution. 2010 Apr 1;64(4):1129-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00869.x. Epub 2009 Oct 23.


Evolutionary theory suggests that low mutation rates should favor the persistence of asexuals. Additionally, given the observation that most nonneutral mutations are deleterious, asexuality may strengthen selection for reduced mutation rates. This reciprocal relationship raises the possibility of a positive feedback loop between sex and mutation rate. We explored the consequences of this evolutionary feedback with an individual-based model in which a sexual population is continually challenged by the introduction of asexual clones. We found that asexuals were more likely to spread in a population when mutation rates were able to evolve relative to a model in which mutation rates were held constant. In fact, under evolving mutation rates, asexuals were able to spread to fixation even when sexuals faced no cost of sex whatsoever. The added success of asexuals was the result of their ability to evolve lower mutation rates and thereby slow the process of mutation accumulation that otherwise limited their spread. Given the existence of ample mutation rate variation in natural populations, our findings show that the evolutionary feedback between sex and mutation rate may intensify the "paradox of sex," supporting the argument that deleterious mutation accumulation alone is likely insufficient to overcome the reproductive advantage of asexual competitors in the short term.

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Feedback
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Mutation*
  • Reproduction, Asexual*