The effect of deleterious mutations on neutral molecular variation.
B Charlesworth, M T Morgan, D Charlesworth


Selection against deleterious alleles maintained by mutation may cause a reduction in the amount of genetic variability at linked neutral sites. This is because a new neutral variant can only remain in a large population for a long period of time if it is maintained in gametes that are free of deleterious alleles, and hence are not destined for rapid elimination from the population by selection. Approximate formulas are derived for the reduction below classical neutral values resulting from such background selection against deleterious mutations, for the mean times to fixation and loss of new mutations, nucleotide site diversity, and number of segregating sites. These formulas apply to random-mating populations with no genetic recombination, and to populations reproducing exclusively asexually or by self-fertilization. For a given selection regime and mating system, the reduction is an exponential function of the total mutation rate to deleterious mutations for the section of the genome involved. Simulations show that the effect decreases rapidly with increasing recombination frequency or rate of outcrossing. The mean time to loss of new neutral mutations and the total number of segregating neutral sites are less sensitive to background selection than the other statistics, unless the population size is of the order of a hundred thousand or more. The stationary distribution of allele frequencies at the neutral sites is correspondingly skewed in favor of rare alleles, compared with the classical neutral result. Observed reductions in molecular variation in low recombination genomic regions of sufficiently large size, for instance in the centromere-proximal regions of Drosophila autosomes or in highly selfing plant populations, may be partly due to background selection against deleterious mutations.