Mutational Landscape of Spontaneous Base Substitutions and Small Indels in Experimental Caenorhabditis elegans Populations of Differing Size.


Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77845 [Email]


Experimental investigations into the rates and fitness effects of spontaneous mutations are fundamental to our understanding of the evolutionary process. To gain insights into the molecular and fitness consequences of spontaneous mutations, we conducted a mutation accumulation (MA) experiment at varying population sizes in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, evolving 35 lines in parallel for 409 generations at three population sizes (N = 1, 10, and 100 individuals). Here, we focus on nuclear SNPs and small insertion/deletions (indels) under minimal influence of selection, as well as their accrual rates in larger populations under greater selection efficacy. The spontaneous rates of base substitutions and small indels are 1.84 (95% C.I. ± 0.14) × 10-9 substitutions and 6.84 (95% C.I. ± 0.97) × 10-10 changes/site/generation, respectively. Small indels exhibit a deletion bias with deletions exceeding insertions by threefold. Notably, there was no correlation between the frequency of base substitutions, nonsynonymous substitutions, or small indels with population size. These results contrast with our previous analysis of mitochondrial DNA mutations and nuclear copy-number changes in these MA lines, and suggest that nuclear base substitutions and small indels are under less stringent purifying selection compared to the former mutational classes. A transition bias was observed in exons as was a near universal base substitution bias toward A/T. Strongly context-dependent base substitutions, where 5'-Ts and 3'-As increase the frequency of A/T → T/A transversions, especially at the boundaries of A or T homopolymeric runs, manifest as higher mutation rates in (i) introns and intergenic regions relative to exons, (ii) chromosomal cores vs. arms and tips, and (iii) germline-expressed genes.


Caenorhabditis elegans,base substitution,genetic drift,mutation accumulation line,selection,small indel,