The red death meets the abdominal bristle: polygenic mutation for susceptibility to a bacterial pathogen in Caenorhabditis elegans

Evolution. 2015 Feb;69(2):508-19. doi: 10.1111/evo.12585. Epub 2015 Jan 19.


Understanding the genetic basis of susceptibility to pathogens is an important goal of medicine and of evolutionary biology. A key first step toward understanding the genetics and evolution of any phenotypic trait is characterizing the role of mutation. However, the rate at which mutation introduces genetic variance for pathogen susceptibility in any organism is essentially unknown. Here, we quantify the per-generation input of genetic variance by mutation (VM) for susceptibility of Caenorhabditis elegans to the pathogenic bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa (defined as the median time of death, LT50). VM for LT50 is slightly less than VM for a variety of life-history and morphological traits in this strain of C. elegans, but is well within the range of reported values in a variety of organisms. Mean LT50 did not change significantly over 250 generations of mutation accumulation. Comparison of VM to the standing genetic variance (VG) implies a strength of selection against new mutations of a few tenths of a percent. These results suggest that the substantial standing genetic variation for susceptibility of C. elegans to P. aeruginosa can be explained by polygenic mutation coupled with purifying selection.

Keywords: LT50; Pseudomonas aeruginosa; mutation accumulation; mutational bias; mutational variance; spontaneous mutation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / microbiology*
  • Disease Susceptibility / microbiology
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Mutation*
  • Pseudomonas Infections / genetics*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.33FV8