As the ultimate source of genetic variation, spontaneous mutation is essential to evolutionary change. Theoretical studies over several decades have revealed the dependence of evolutionary consequences of mutation on specific mutational properties, including genomic mutation rates, U, and the effects of newly arising mutations on individual fitness, s. The recent resurgence of empirical effort to infer these properties for diverse organisms has not achieved consensus. Estimates, which have been obtained by methods that assume mutations are unidirectional in their effects on fitness, are imprecise. Both because a general approach must allow for occurrence of fitness-enhancing mutations, even if these are rare, and because recent evidence demands it, we present a new method for inferring mutational parameters. For the distribution of mutational effects, we retain Keightley's assumption of the gamma distribution, to take advantage of the flexibility of its shape. Because the conventional gamma is one sided, restricting it to unidirectional effects, we include an additional parameter, ρ, as an amount it is displaced from zero. Estimation is accomplished by Markov chain Monte Carlo maximum likelihood. Through a limited set of simulations, we verify the accuracy of this approach. We apply it to analyze data on two reproductive fitness components from a 17-generation mutation-accumulation study of a Columbia accession of Arabidopsis thaliana in which 40 lines sampled in three generations were assayed simultaneously. For these traits, U ≃ 0.1–0.2, with distributions of mutational effects broadly spanning zero, such that roughly half the mutations reduce reproductive fitness. One evolutionary consequence of these results is lower extinction risks of small populations of A. thaliana than expected from the process of mutational meltdown. A comprehensive view of the evolutionary consequences of mutation will depend on quantitatively accounting for fitness-enhancing, as well as fitness-reducing, mutations.
Corresponding Editor: A. Caballero