Mutation is the ultimate source of the genetic variation—including variation for mutation rate itself—that fuels evolution. Natural selection can raise or lower the genomic mutation rate of a population by changing the frequencies of mutation rate modifier alleles associated with beneficial and deleterious mutations. Existing theory and observations suggest that where selection is minimized, rapid systematic evolution of mutation rate either up or down is unlikely. Here, we report systematic evolution of higher and lower mutation rates in replicate hypermutable Escherichia coli populations experimentally propagated at very small effective size—a circumstance under which selection is greatly reduced. Several populations went extinct during this experiment, and these populations tended to evolve elevated mutation rates. In contrast, populations that survived to the end of the experiment tended to evolve decreased mutation rates. We discuss the relevance of our results to current ideas about the evolution, maintenance and consequences of high mutation rates.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3699055.
- Received October 26, 2016.
- Accepted February 9, 2017.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.