Evidence that Adaptation in Drosophila Is Not Limited by Mutation at Single Sites

Evidence that Adaptation in Drosophila Is Not Limited by Mutation at Single Sites

Talia Karasov, Philipp W. Messer, Dmitri A. Petrov

PLoS Genet 6(6): e1000924. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000924

Adaptation in eukaryotes is generally assumed to be mutation-limited because of small effective population sizes. This view is difficult to reconcile, however, with the observation that adaptation to anthropogenic changes, such as the introduction of pesticides, can occur very rapidly. Here we investigate adaptation at a key insecticide resistance locus (Ace) in Drosophila melanogaster and show that multiple simple and complex resistance alleles evolved quickly and repeatedly within individual populations. Our results imply that the current effective population size of modern D. melanogaster populations is likely to be substantially larger (≥100-fold) than commonly believed. This discrepancy arises because estimates of the effective population size are generally derived from levels of standing variation and thus reveal long-term population dynamics dominated by sharp—even if infrequent—bottlenecks. The short-term effective population sizes relevant for strong adaptation, on the other hand, might be much closer to census population sizes. Adaptation in Drosophila may therefore not be limited by waiting for mutations at single sites, and complex adaptive alleles can be generated quickly without fixation of intermediate states. Adaptive events should also commonly involve the simultaneous rise in frequency of independently generated adaptive mutations. These so-called soft sweeps have very distinct effects on the linked neutral polymorphisms compared to the standard hard sweeps in mutation-limited scenarios. Methods for the mapping of adaptive mutations or association mapping of evolutionarily relevant mutations may thus need to be reconsidered.

Author Summary
Adaptation in eukaryotes is often assumed to be limited by the waiting time for adaptive mutations. This is because effective population sizes are relatively small, typically on the order of only a few million reproducing individuals or less. It should therefore take hundreds or even thousands of generations until a particular new mutation emerges. However, several striking examples of rapid adaptation appear inconsistent with this view. Here we investigate a showpiece case for rapid adaptation, the evolution of pesticide resistance in the classical genetic organism Drosophila melanogaster. Our analysis reveals distinct population genetic signatures of this adaptation that can only be explained if the number of reproducing flies is, in fact, more than 100-fold larger than commonly believed. We argue that the old estimates, based on standing levels of neutral genetic variation, are misleading in the case of rapid adaptation because levels of standing variation are strongly affected by infrequent population crashes or adaptations taking place in the vicinity of neutral sites. Our results suggest that many standard assumptions about the adaptive process in eukaryotes need to be reconsidered.

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