Joseph Felsenstein


The controversy over the evolutionary advantage of recombination initially discovered by Fisher and by Muller is reviewed. Those authors whose models had finite-population effects found an advantage of recombination, and those whose models had infinite populations found none. The advantage of recombination is that it breaks down random linkage disequilibrium generated by genetic drift. Hill and Robertson found that the average effect of this randomly-generated linkage disequilibrium was to cause linked loci to interfere with each other's response to selection, even where there was no gene interaction between the loci. This effect is shown to be identical to the original argument of Fisher and Muller. It also predicts the "ratchet mechanism" discovered by Muller, who pointed out that deleterious mutants would more readily increase in a population without recombination. Computer simulations of substitution of favorable mutants and of the long-term increase of deleterious mutants verified the essential correctness of the original Fisher-Muller argument and the reality of the Muller ratchet mechanism. It is argued that these constitute an intrinsic advantage of recombination capable of accounting for its persistence in the face of selection for tighter linkage between interacting polymorphisms, and possibly capable of accounting for its origin.

  • Received October 3, 1973.