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The emergence of a birth-dependent mutation rate in asexuals: causes and consequences

By Florian Patout, Raphael Forien, Matthieu Alfaro, Julien Papaix, Lionel Roques

Posted 11 Jun 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.06.11.448026

In unicellular organisms such as bacteria and in most viruses, mutations mainly occur during reproduction. Thus, genotypes with a high birth rate should have a higher mutation rate. However, standard models of asexual adaptation such as the `replicator-mutator equation' often neglect this generation-time effect. In this study, we investigate the emergence of a positive dependence between the birth rate and the mutation rate in models of asexual adaptation and the consequences of this dependence. We show that it emerges naturally at the population scale, based on a large population limit of a stochastic time-continuous individual-based model with elementary assumptions. We derive a reaction-diffusion framework that describes the evolutionary trajectories and steady states in the presence of this dependence. When this model is coupled with a phenotype to fitness landscape with two optima, one for birth, the other one for survival, a new trade-off arises in the population. Compared to the standard approach with a constant mutation rate, the symmetry between birth and survival is broken. Our analytical results and numerical simulations show that the trajectories of mean phenotype, mean fitness and the stationary phenotype distribution are in sharp contrast with those displayed for the standard model. The reason for this is that the usual weak selection limit does not hold in a complex landscape with several optima associated with different values of the birth rate. Here, we obtain trajectories of adaptation where the mean phenotype of the population is initially attracted by the birth optimum, but eventually converges to the survival optimum, following a hook-shaped curve which illustrates the antagonistic effects of mutation on adaptation.

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