Deleterious mutations, apparent stabilizing selection and the maintenance of quantitative variation.
A S Kondrashov, M Turelli

Abstract

Apparent stabilizing selection on a quantitative trait that is not causally connected to fitness can result from the pleiotropic effects of unconditionally deleterious mutations, because as N. Barton noted, "...individuals with extreme values of the trait will tend to carry more deleterious alleles...." We use a simple model to investigate the dependence of this apparent selection on the genomic deleterious mutation rate, U; the equilibrium distribution of K, the number of deleterious mutations per genome; and the parameters describing directional selection against deleterious mutations. Unlike previous analyses, we allow for epistatic selection against deleterious alleles. For various selection functions and realistic parameter values, the distribution of K, the distribution of breeding values for a pleiotropically affected trait, and the apparent stabilizing selection function are all nearly Gaussian. The additive genetic variance for the quantitative trait is kQa2, where k is the average number of deleterious mutations per genome, Q is the proportion of deleterious mutations that affect the trait, and a2 is the variance of pleiotropic effects for individual mutations that do affect the trait. In contrast, when the trait is measured in units of its additive standard deviation, the apparent fitness function is essentially independent of Q and a2; and beta, the intensity of selection, measured as the ratio of additive genetic variance to the "variance" of the fitness curve, is very close to s = U/k, the selection coefficient against individual deleterious mutations at equilibrium. Therefore, this model predicts appreciable apparent stabilizing selection if s exceeds about 0.03, which is consistent with various data. However, the model also predicts that beta must equal Vm/VG, the ratio of new additive variance for the trait introduced each generation by mutation to the standing additive variance. Most, although not all, estimates of this ratio imply apparent stabilizing selection weaker than generally observed. A qualitative argument suggests that even when direct selection is responsible for most of the selection observed on a character, it may be essentially irrelevant to the maintenance of variation for the character by mutation-selection balance. Simple experiments can indicate the fraction of observed stabilizing selection attributable to the pleiotropic effects of deleterious mutations.