Mutational Load and the Transition between Diploidy and Haploidy in Experimental Populations of the Yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae

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Mutations were accumulated over hundreds of generations in a mutator strain of yeast in a constant laboratory environment. This ensured that mutations were frequent and that the quality of environment remained unchanged. Mutations were accumulated in asexual populations of diploids but their impact on fitness was tested both for the diploid clones and for haploid clones derived from them. Dozens of harmful and lethal mutations accumulated in diploids, but important phenotypic traits, such as maximum growth rate, did not deteriorate by more than 10%. There were no signs of decline in population size. In strong contrast, the populations of haploids derived from the diploids suffered from high mortality; their density was reduced by more than three orders of magnitude. These findings indicate how ineffective natural selection can be in removing deleterious mutations from populations of clonally reproducing diploids. They also suggest that phenotypic assays of heterozygous diploids may be of little value as indicators of increasing genetic degeneration.

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