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A broad mutational target explains a fast rate of phenotypic evolution

Fabrice Besnard#*, Joao Picao-Osorio*, Clément Dubois, Marie-Anne Félix#


The rapid evolution of a trait in a clade of organisms can be explained by the sustained action of natural selection or by a high mutational variance, that is the propensity to change under spontaneous mutation. The causes for a high mutational variance are still elusive. In some cases, fast evolution depends on the high mutation rate of one or few loci with short tandem repeats. Here, we report on the fastest evolving cell fate among vulva precursor cells in Caenorhabditis nematodes, that of P3.p. We identify and validate causal mutations underlying P3.p’s high mutational variance. We find that these positions do not present any characteristics of a high mutation rate, are scattered across the genome and the corresponding genes belong to distinct biological pathways. Our data indicate that a broad mutational target size is the cause of the high mutational variance and of the corresponding fast phenotypic evolutionary rate.
Keywords : C. elegans ; caenorhabditis ; evolutionary biology ; evolutionary rate ; genetics ; genomics ; mutational target ; mutational variance ; vulva.

More information

Elife. 2020 Aug 27 ;9:e54928. doi : 10.7554/eLife.54928.