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Keywords:

  • mutation rate;
  • variation;
  • evolvability;
  • indirect selection;
  • protocols;
  • simple sequence repeats

A hypothesis that mutability evolves to facilitate evolutionary adaptation is dismissed by many biologists. Their skepticism is based on a theoretical expectation that natural selection must minimize mutation rates. That view, in turn, is historically grounded in an intuitive presumption that “the vast majority of mutations are harmful.” But such skepticism is surely misplaced. Several highly mutagenic genomic patterns, including simple sequence repeats, and transposable elements, are integrated into an unexpectedly large proportion of functional genetic loci. Because alleles arising within such patterns can retain an intrinsic propensity toward a particular style of mutation, natural selection that favors any such allele can indirectly favor the site's mutability as well. By exploiting patterns that have produced beneficial alleles in the past, indirect selection can encourage mutation within constraints that reduce the probability of deleterious effect, thereby shaping implicit “mutation protocols” that effectively promote evolvability.