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Jain, Kavita and Stephan, Wolfgang (2017): Modes of Rapid Polygenic Adaptation. In: Molecular Biology and Evolution, Vol. 34, No. 12: pp. 3169-3175

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Many experimental and field studies have shown that adaptation can occur very rapidly. Two qualitatively different modes of fast adaptation have been proposed: selective sweeps wherein large shifts in the allele frequencies occur at a few loci and evolution via small changes in the allele frequencies at many loci. Although the first process has been thoroughly investigated within the framework of population genetics, the latter is based on quantitative genetics and is much less understood. Here we summarize results from our recent theoretical studies of a quantitative genetic model of polygenic adaptation that makes explicit reference to population genetics to bridge the gap between the two frameworks. Our key results are that polygenic adaptation may be a rapid process and can proceed via subtle or dramatic changes in the allele frequency depending on the sizes of the phenotypic effects relative to a threshold value. We also discuss how the signals of polygenic selection may be detected in the genome. Although powerful methods are available to identify signatures of selective sweeps at loci controlling quantitative traits, the development of statistical tests for detecting small shifts of allele frequencies at quantitative trait loci is still in its infancy.

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