Lynch, Michael; Bürger, Reinhard; Butcher, D.; Gabriel, Wilfried
The mutational meltdown in asexual populations.
In: Journal of Heredity, Vol. 84: pp. 339-344
Loss of fitness due to the accumulation of deleterious mutations appears to be inevitable in small, obligately asexual populations, as these are incapable of reconstituting highly fit genotypes by recombination or back mutation. The cumulative buildup of such mutations is expected to lead to an eventual reduction in population size, and this facilitates the chance accumulation of future mutations. This synergistic interaction between population size reduction and mutation accumulation leads to an extinction process known as the mutational meltdown, and provides a powerful explanation for the rarity of obligate asexuality. We give an overview of the theory of the mutational meltdown, showing how the process depends on the demographic properties of a population, the properties of mutations, and the relationship between fitness and number of mutations incurred.