Sexual reproduction reshapes the genetic architecture of digital organisms.

Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior Program, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (Impact Factor: 5.29). 03/2006; 273(1585):457-64. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2005.3338
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Modularity and epistasis, as well as other aspects of genetic architecture, have emerged as central themes in evolutionary biology. Theory suggests that modularity promotes evolvability, and that aggravating (synergistic) epistasis among deleterious mutations facilitates the evolution of sex. Here, by contrast, we investigate the evolution of different genetic architectures using digital organisms, which are computer programs that self-replicate, mutate, compete and evolve. Specifically, we investigate how genetic architecture is shaped by reproductive mode. We allowed 200 populations of digital organisms to evolve for over 10 000 generations while reproducing either asexually or sexually. For 10 randomly chosen organisms from each population, we constructed and analysed all possible single mutants as well as one million mutants at each mutational distance from 2 to 10. The genomes of sexual organisms were more modular than asexual ones; sites encoding different functional traits had less overlap and sites encoding a particular trait were more tightly clustered. Net directional epistasis was alleviating (antagonistic) in both groups, although the overall strength of this epistasis was weaker in sexual than in asexual organisms. Our results show that sexual reproduction profoundly influences the evolution of the genetic architecture.

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