An experimental test on the probability of extinction of new genetic variants

Nat Commun. 2013;4:2417. doi: 10.1038/ncomms3417.


In 1927, J.B.S. Haldane reasoned that the probability of fixation of new beneficial alleles is twice their fitness effect. This result, later generalized by M. Kimura, has since become the cornerstone of modern population genetics. There is no experimental test of Haldane's insight that new beneficial alleles are lost with high probability. Here we demonstrate that extinction rates decrease with increasing initial numbers of beneficial alleles, as expected, by performing invasion experiments with inbred lines of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. We further show that the extinction rates of deleterious alleles are higher than those of beneficial alleles, also as expected. Interestingly, we also find that for these inbred lines, when at intermediate frequencies, the fate of invaders might not result in their ultimate fixation or loss but on their maintenance. Our study confirms the key results from classical population genetics and highlights that the nature of adaptation can be complex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / enzymology*
  • Extinction, Biological*
  • Genetic Drift
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Models, Biological
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Probability*
  • Time Factors