When laboratory populations of the RNA bacteriophage φ6 are subjected to intensified genetic drift, they experience a decline in fitness. These experiments demonstrate that the average effect of mutations is deleterious, and they are used to suggest that Muller's ratchet can operate in these viruses. However, the operation of Muller's ratchet does not alone guarantee an advantage of sex. When φ6 populations were subjected to a series of bottlenecks of one individual and then crossed, the measured advantage of sex was not significant. To determine whether a small sample size, as opposed to allelism or another explanation, can account for the negative result, we repeated the φ6 experiments by crossing a larger set of populations. We found that bottlenecked populations of φ6 could recover fitness through mutations. However, hybrids produced by crossing the populations recovered an additional amount over the contribution of mutations. This additional amount, which represents an advantage of sex to φ6, was determined to be significantly greater than zero. These results provide indirect support for an advantage of sex through Muller's ratchet. However, we also use our experimental design and results to propose an alternative to Muller's ratchet as a model for the evolution of sex.
- Received January 22, 1997.
- Accepted July 2, 1997.
- Copyright © 1997 by the Genetics Society of America