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Epistasis and frequency dependence influence the fitness of an adaptive mutation in a diversifying lineage


Mickael Le Gac, Fax: (+33) 0476637497; E-mail:


The opportunity for a mutation to invade a population can dramatically vary depending on the context in which this mutation occurs. Such context dependence is difficult to document as it requires the ability to measure how a mutation affects phenotypes and fitness and to manipulate the context in which the mutation occurs. We identified a mutation in a gene encoding a global regulator in one of two ecotypes that diverged from a common ancestor during 1200 generations of experimental evolution. We replaced the ancestral allele by the mutant allele, and vice versa, in several clones isolated during the time course of the evolution experiment, and compared the phenotype and fitness of clones isogenic except for the focal mutation. We show that the fitness and phenotype of the mutation are strongly affected by epistatic interactions between genes in the same genome, as well as by frequency dependent selection resulting from biotic interactions between individuals in the same population. We conclude that amongst the replicate population in which it spread, the mutation we identified is only adaptive when occurring in specific genomes and competing with specific individuals. This study thus demonstrates that the opportunity for an adaptive mutation to spread in an evolutionary lineage can only be understood in the light of its genomic and competitive environments.