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20 Nov 2017
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Effects of partial selfing on the equilibrium genetic variance, mutation load and inbreeding depression under stabilizing selection

Understanding genetic variance, load, and inbreeding depression with selfing

Recommended by based on reviews by Frédéric Guillaume and 1 anonymous reviewer

A classic problem in evolutionary biology is to understand the genetic variance in fitness. The simplest hypothesis is that variation exists, even in well-adapted populations, as a result of the balance between mutational input and selective elimination. This variation causes a reduction in mean fitness, known as the mutation load. Though mutation load is difficult to quantify empirically, indirect evidence of segregating genetic variation in fitness is often readily obtained by comparing the fitness of inbred and outbred offspring, i.e., by measuring inbreeding depression. Mutation-selection balance models have been studied as a means of understanding the genetic variance in fitness, mutation load, and inbreeding depression. Since their inception, such models have increased in sophistication, allowing us to ask these questions under more realistic and varied scenarios. The new theoretical work by Abu Awad and Roze [1] is a substantial step forward in understanding how arbitrary levels of self-fertilization affect variation, load and inbreeding depression under mutation-selection balance.
It has never been entirely clear how selfing should affect these population genetic properties in a multi-locus model. From the single-locus perspective, selfing increases homozygosity, which allows for more efficient purging leading to a prediction of less variance and lower load. On the other hand, selfing directly and indirectly affects several types of multilocus associations, which tend to make selection less efficient. Though this is certainly not the first study to consider mutation-selection balance in species with selfing (e.g., [2-5]), it is perhaps the most biologically realistic. The authors consider a model where n traits are under stabilizing selection and where each locus affects an arbitrary subset of these traits. As others have argued [6-7], this type of fitness landscape model “naturally” gives rise to dominance and epistatic effects. Abu Awad and Roze [1] thoroughly investigate this model both with analytical approximations and stochastic simulations (incorporating the effects of drift).
Their analysis reveals three major parameter regimes. The first regime occurs under low mutation rates, when segregating deleterious alleles are sufficiently rare across the genome that multi-locus genetic associations (disequilibria) can be ignored. As expected, in this regime, increased selfing facilitates purging, thereby leading to less standing genetic variation, lower load and less inbreeding depression.
In the second regime, mutation rates are higher and segregating deleterious alleles are more common. Though the effects of multilocus genetic associations cannot be ignored, Abu Awad and Roze [1] show that a good approximation can be obtained by considering only two-locus associations (ignoring the multitude of higher order associations). This is where the sophistication of their analysis yields the greatest insights. Their analysis shows that two different types of interlocus associations are important. First, selfing directly generates identity disequilibrium (correlation in homozygosity between two loci) that occurs because individuals produced through outbreeding tend to be heterozygous across multiple loci whereas individuals produced by selfing tend to be homozygous across multiple loci. These correlations reduce the efficiency of selection when deleterious effects are partially recessive [5]. Second, selfing indirectly affects traditional linkage disequilibrium. Epistatic selection resulting from the fitness landscape generates negative linkage disequilibrium between alleles at different loci that cause the same direction of deviation in a trait from its optimum. Because selfing reduces the effective rate of recombination, linkage disequilibrium reaches higher levels. Because selection tends to generate compensatory combinations of alleles, partially masking their deleterious effects, these associations also make purging less efficient. Their analysis shows the strength of the effect from identity disequilibrium scales with U, the genome-wide rate of deleterious mutations, but the effect of linkage disequilibrium scales with U/n because with more traits (higher n) two randomly chosen alleles are less likely to affect the same trait and so be subject to epistatic selection. Together, the effects of multilocus associations increase the load and can, in some cases, cause the load to increase as selfing increase from moderate to high levels.
However, their analytical approximations become inaccurate under conditions when the number of epistatically interacting segregating mutations (proportional to U/n) becomes large relative to the effective recombination rate (dependent on outcrossing and recombination rates). In this third regime, higher order genetic associations become important. In the limit of no recombination, model behaves as if the whole genome is a single locus with a very large number of alleles, becoming equivalent to previous studies [2-3].
The study by Abu Awad and Roze [1] helps us better understand the “simplest” explanation for genetic variance in fitness—mutation-selection balance—in a model of considerable complexity involving multiple traits under stabilizing selection, which ‘naturally’ allows for pleiotropy and epistasis. Their model tends to confirm the classic prediction of lower variation in fitness, less load, and inbreeding depression in species with higher levels of selfing. However, their careful analysis provides a clearer picture of how (and by how much) epistasis and selfing affect key population genetic properties.


[1] Abu Awad D and Roze D. 2017. Effects of partial selfing on the equilibrium genetic variance, mutation load and inbreeding depression under stabilizing selection. bioRxiv, 180000, ver. 4 of 17th November 2017. doi: 10.1101/180000

[2] Lande R. 1977. The influence of the mating system on the maintenance of genetic variability in polygenic characters. Genetics 86: 485–498.

[3] Charlesworth D and Charlesworth B. 1987. Inbreeding depression and its evolutionary consequences. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics. 18: 237–268. doi: 10.1111/10.1146/

[4] Lande R and Porcher E. 2015. Maintenance of quantitative genetic variance under partial self-fertilization, with implications for the evolution of selfing. Genetics 200: 891–906. doi: 10.1534/genetics.115.176693

[5] Roze D. 2015. Effects of interference between selected loci on the mutation load, inbreeding depression, and heterosis. Genetics 201: 745–757. doi: 10.1534/genetics.115.178533

[6] Martin G and Lenormand T. 2006. A general multivariate extension of Fisher's geometrical model and the distribution of mutation fitness effects across species. Evolution 60: 893–907. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2006.tb01169.x

[7] Martin G, Elena SF and Lenormand T. 2007. Distributions of epistasis in microbes fit predictions from a fitness landscape model. Nature Genetics 39: 555–560. doi: 10.1038/ng1998

Effects of partial selfing on the equilibrium genetic variance, mutation load and inbreeding depression under stabilizing selectionDiala Abu Awad and Denis RozeThe mating system of a species is expected to have important effects on its genetic diversity. In this paper, we explore the effects of partial selfing on the equilibrium genetic variance Vg, mutation load L and inbreeding depression δ under stabi...Evolutionary Theory, Population Genetics / Genomics, Quantitative Genetics, Reproduction and SexAneil F. Agrawal2017-08-26 09:29:20 View
20 Dec 2016
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Experimental Evolution of Gene Expression and Plasticity in Alternative Selective Regimes

Genetic adaptation counters phenotypic plasticity in experimental evolution

Recommended by and

How do phenotypic plasticity and adaptive evolution interact in a novel or changing environment? Does evolution by natural selection generally reinforce initially plastic phenotypic responses, or does it instead oppose them? And to what extent does evolution of a trait involve evolution of its plasticity? These questions have lied at the heart of research on phenotypic evolution in heterogeneous environments ever since it was realized that the environment is likely to affect the expression of many (perhaps most) characters of an individual. Importantly, this broad definition of phenotypic plasticity as change in the average phenotype of a given genotype in response to its environment of development (or expression) does not involve any statement about the adaptiveness of the plastic changes. Theory on the evolution of plasticity has devoted much effort to understanding how reaction norm should evolve under different regimes of environmental change in space and time, and depending on genetic constraints on reaction norm shapes. However on an empirically ground, the questions above have mostly been addressed for individual traits, often chosen a priori for their likeliness to exhibit adaptive plasticity, and we still lack more systematic answers. These can be provided by so-called ‘phenomic’ approaches, where a large number of traits are tracked without prior information on their biological or ecological function. A problem is that the number of phenotypic characters that can be measured in an organism is virtually infinite (and to some extent arbitrary), and that scaling issues makes it difficult to compare different sets of traits. Gene-expression levels offer a partial solution to this dilemma, as they can be considered as a very large number of traits (one per typed gene) that can be measured easily and uniformly (fold change in the number of reads in RNAseq). As for any traits, expression levels of different genes may be genetically correlated, to an extent that depends on their regulation mechanism: cis-regulatory sequences that only affect expression of neighboring genes are likely to cause independent gene expression, while more systematic modifiers of expression (e.g. trans-regulators such as transcription factors) may cause correlated genetic responses of the expression of many genes. Huang and Agrawal [1] have studied plasticity and evolution of gene expression level in young larvae of populations of Drosophila melanogaster that have evolved for about 130 generations under either a constant environment (salt or cadmium), or an environment that is heterogeneous in time or space (combining salt and cadmium). They report a wealth of results, of which we summarize the most striking here. First, among genes that (i) were initially highly plastic and (ii) evolved significant divergence in expression levels between constant environment treatments, the evolved divergence is predominantly in the opposite direction to the initial plastic response. This suggests that either plasticity was initially maladaptive, or the selective pressure changed during the evolutionary process (see below). This somewhat unexpected result strikingly mirrors that from a study published last year in Nature [2], where the same pattern was found for responses of guppies to the presence of predators. However, Huang and Agrawal [1] went beyond this study by deciphering the underlying mechanisms in several interesting ways. First, they showed that change in gene expression often occurred at genes close to SNPs with differentiated frequencies across treatments (but not at genes with differentiated SNPs in their coding sequences), suggesting that cis-regulatory sequences are involved. This is also suggested by the fact that changes in gene expression are mostly caused by the increased expression of only one allele at polymorphic loci, and is a first step towards investigating the genetic underpinnings of (co)variation in gene expression levels. Another interesting set of findings concerns evolution of plasticity in treatments with variable environments. To compare the gene-expression plasticity that evolved in these treatments to an expectation, the authors considered that the expression levels in populations maintained for a long time under constant salt or cadmium had reached an optimum. The differences between these expression levels were thus assumed to predict the level of plasticity that should evolve in a heterogeneous environment (with both cadmium and salt) under perfect environmental predictability. The authors showed that plasticity did evolve more in the expected direction in heterogeneous than in constant environments, resulting in better adapted final expression levels across environments. Taken collectively, these results provide an unprecedented set of patterns that are greatly informative on how plasticity and evolution interact in constant versus changing environments. But of course, interpretations in terms of adaptive versus maladaptive plasticity are more challenging, as the authors themselves admit. Even though environmentally determined gene expression is the basic mechanism underlying the phenotypic plasticity of most traits, it is extremely difficult to relate to more integrated phenotypes for which we can understand the selection pressures, especially in multicellular organisms. The authors have recently investigated evolutionary change of quantitative traits in these selected lines, so it might be possible to establish links between reaction norms for macroscopic traits to those for gene expression levels. Such an approach would also involve tracking gene expression throughout life, rather than only in young larvae as done here, thus putting phenotypic complexity back in the picture also for expression levels. Another difficulty is that a plastic response that was originally adaptive may be replaced by an opposite evolutionary response in the long run, without having to invoke initially maladaptive plasticity. For instance, the authors mention the possibility that a generic stress response is initially triggered by cadmium, but is eventually unnecessary and costly after evolution of genetic mechanisms for cadmium detoxification (a case of so-called genetic accommodation). In any case, this study by Huang and Agrawal [1], together with the one by Ghalambor et al. last year [2], reports novel and unexpected results, which are likely to stimulate researchers interested in plasticity and evolution in heterogeneous environments for the years to come.


[1] Huang Y, Agrawal AF. 2016. Experimental Evolution of Gene Expression and Plasticity in Alternative Selective Regimes. PLoS Genetics 12:e1006336. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1006336

[2] Ghalambor CK, Hoke KL, Ruell EW, Fischer EK, Reznick DN, Hughes KA. 2015. Non-adaptive plasticity potentiates rapid adaptive evolution of gene expression in nature. Nature 525: 372-375. doi: 10.1038/nature15256

Experimental Evolution of Gene Expression and Plasticity in Alternative Selective RegimesHuang Y, Agrawal AFLittle is known of how gene expression and its plasticity evolves as populations adapt to different environmental regimes. Expression is expected to evolve adaptively in all populations but only those populations experiencing environmental heterog...Adaptation, Experimental Evolution, Expression Studies, Phenotypic PlasticityLuis-Miguel Chevin2016-12-20 09:04:15 View
22 Sep 2020
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Evolutionary stasis of the pseudoautosomal boundary in strepsirrhine primates

Studying genetic antagonisms as drivers of genome evolution

Recommended by based on reviews by Qi Zhou and 3 anonymous reviewers

Sex chromosomes are special in the genome because they are often highly differentiated over much of their lengths and marked by degenerative evolution of their gene content. Understanding why sex chromosomes differentiate requires deciphering the forces driving their recombination patterns. Suppression of recombination may be subject to selection, notably because of functional effects of locking together variation at different traits, as well as longer-term consequences of the inefficient purge of deleterious mutations, both of which may contribute to patterns of differentiation [1]. As an example, male and female functions may reveal intrinsic antagonisms over the optimal genotypes at certain genes or certain combinations of interacting genes. As a result, selection may favour the recruitment of rearrangements blocking recombination and maintaining the association of sex-antagonistic allele combinations with the sex-determining locus.
The hypothesis that sexually antagonistic selection might drive recombination suppression along the sex chromosomes is not new, but there are surprisingly few studies examining this empirically [1]. Support mainly comes from the study of guppy populations Poecilia reticulata in which the level of sexual dimorphism (notably due to male ornaments, subject to sexual selection) varies among populations, and was found to correlate with the length of the non-recombining region on the sex chromosome [2]. But the link is not always that clear. For instance in the fungus Microbotryum violaceum, the mating type loci is characterized by adjacent segments with recombination suppression, despite the near absence of functional differentiation between mating types [3].
In this study, Shearn and colleagues [4] explore the patterns of recombination suppression on the sex chromosomes of primates. X and Y chromosomes are strongly differentiated, except in a small region where they recombine with each other, the pseudoautosomal region (PAR). In the clade of apes and monkeys, including humans, large rearrangements have extended the non recombining region stepwise, eroding the PAR. Could this be driven by sexually antagonistic selection in a clade showing strong sexual differentiation?
To evaluate this idea, Shearn et al. have compared the structure of recombination in apes and monkeys to their sister clade with lower levels of sexual dimorphism, the lemurs and the lorises. If sexual antagonism was important in shaping recombination suppression, and assuming lower measures of sexual dimorphism reflect lower sexual antagonism [5], then lemurs and lorises would be predicted to show a shorter non-recombining region than apes and monkeys.
Lemurs and lorises were terra incognita in terms of genomic research on the sex chromosomes, so Shearn et al. have sequenced the genomes of males and females of different species. To assess whether sequences came from a recombining or non-recombining segment, they used coverage information in males vs females to identify sequences on the X whose copy on the Y is absent or too divergent to map, indicating long-term differentiation (absence of recombination). This approach reveals that the two lineages have undergone different recombination dynamics since they split from their common ancestor: regions which have undergone further structural rearrangements extending the non-recombining region in apes and monkeys, have continued to recombine normally in lemurs and lorises. Consistent with the prediction, macroevolutionary variation in the differentiation of males and females is indeed accompanied by variation in the size of the non-recombining region on the sex chromosome.
Sex chromosomes are excellent examples of how genomes are shaped by selection. By directly exploring recombination patterns on the sex chromosome across all extant primate groups, this study comes as a nice addition to the short series of empirical studies evaluating whether sexual antagonism may drive certain aspects of genome structure. The sexual selection causing sometimes spectacular morphological or behavioural differences between sexes in many animals may be the visible tip of the iceberg of all the antagonisms that characterise male vs. female functions generally [5]. Further research should bring insight into how different flavours or intensities of antagonistic selection can contribute to shape genome variation.


[1] Charlesworth D (2017) Evolution of recombination rates between sex chromosomes. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 372, 20160456.
[2] Wright AE, Darolti I, Bloch NI, Oostra V, Sandkam B, Buechel SD, Kolm N, Breden F, Vicoso B, Mank JE (2017) Convergent recombination suppression suggests role of sexual selection in guppy sex chromosome formation. Nature Communications, 8, 14251.
[3] Branco S, Badouin H, Vega RCR de la, Gouzy J, Carpentier F, Aguileta G, Siguenza S, Brandenburg J-T, Coelho MA, Hood ME, Giraud T (2017) Evolutionary strata on young mating-type chromosomes despite the lack of sexual antagonism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114, 7067–7072.
[4] Shearn R, Wright AE, Mousset S, Régis C, Penel S, Lemaitre J-F, Douay G, Crouau-Roy B, Lecompte E, Marais GAB (2020) Evolutionary stasis of the pseudoautosomal boundary in strepsirrhine primates. bioRxiv, 445072.
[5] Connallon T, Clark AG (2014) Evolutionary inevitability of sexual antagonism. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281, 20132123.

Evolutionary stasis of the pseudoautosomal boundary in strepsirrhine primatesRylan Shearn, Alison E. Wright, Sylvain Mousset, Corinne Régis, Simon Penel, Jean-François Lemaitre, Guillaume Douay, Brigitte Crouau-Roy, Emilie Lecompte, Gabriel A.B. Marais<p>Sex chromosomes are typically comprised of a non-recombining region and a recombining pseudoautosomal region. Accurately quantifying the relative size of these regions is critical for sex chromosome biology both from a functional (i.e. number o...Bioinformatics & Computational Biology, Genome Evolution, Molecular Evolution, Reproduction and Sex, Sexual SelectionMathieu Joron2019-02-04 15:16:32 View
14 Feb 2024
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Distinct patterns of genetic variation at low-recombining genomic regions represent haplotype structure

Discerning the causes of local deviations in genetic variation: the effect of low-recombination regions

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Claire Merot and 1 anonymous reviewer

In this study, Ishigohoka and colleagues tackle an important, yet often overlooked, question on the causes of genetic variation. While genome-wide patterns represent population structure, local variation is often associated with selection. Authors propose that an alternative cause for variation in individual loci is reduced recombination rate.

To test this hypothesis, authors perform local Principal Component Analysis (PCA) (Li & Ralph, 2019) to identify local deviations in population structure in the Eurasian blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (Ishigohoka et al. 2022). This approach is typically used to detect chromosomal rearrangements or any long region of linked loci (e.g., due to reduced recombination or selection) (Mérot et al. 2021). While other studies investigated the effect of low recombination on genetic variation (Booker et al. 2020), here authors provide a comprehensive analysis of the effect of recombination to local PCA patterns both in empirical and simulated data sets. Findings demonstrate that low recombination (and not selection) can be the sole explanatory variable for outlier windows. The study also describes patterns of genetic variation along the genome of Eurasian blackcaps, localising at least two polymorphic inversions (Ishigohoka et al. 2022).

Further investigations on the effect of model parameters (e.g., window sizes and thresholds for defining low-recombining regions), as well as the use of powerful neutrality tests are in need to clearly assess whether outlier regions experience selection and reduced recombination, and to what extent.


Booker, T. R., Yeaman, S., & Whitlock, M. C. (2020). Variation in recombination rate affects detection of outliers in genome scans under neutrality. Molecular Ecology, 29 (22), 4274–4279.

Ishigohoka, J., Bascón-Cardozo, K., Bours, A., Fuß, J., Rhie, A., Mountcastle, J., Haase, B., Chow, W., Collins, J., Howe, K., Uliano-Silva, M., Fedrigo, O., Jarvis, E. D., Pérez-Tris, J., Illera, J. C., Liedvogel, M. (2022) Distinct patterns of genetic variation at low-recombining genomic regions represent haplotype structure. bioRxiv 2021.12.22.473882, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

Li, H., & Ralph, P. (2019). Local PCA Shows How the Effect of Population Structure Differs Along the Genome. Genetics, 211 (1), 289–304.

Mérot, C., Berdan, E. L., Cayuela, H., Djambazian, H., Ferchaud, A.-L., Laporte, M., Normandeau, E., Ragoussis, J., Wellenreuther, M., & Bernatchez, L. (2021). Locally Adaptive Inversions Modulate Genetic Variation at Different Geographic Scales in a Seaweed Fly. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 38 (9), 3953–3971.

Distinct patterns of genetic variation at low-recombining genomic regions represent haplotype structureJun Ishigohoka, Karen Bascón-Cardozo, Andrea Bours, Janina Fuß, Arang Rhie, Jacquelyn Mountcastle, Bettina Haase, William Chow, Joanna Collins, Kerstin Howe, Marcela Uliano-Silva, Olivier Fedrigo, Erich D. Jarvis, Javier Pérez-Tris, Juan Carlos Il...<p>Genetic variation of the entire genome represents population structure, yet individual loci can show distinct patterns. Such deviations identified through genome scans have often been attributed to effects of selection instead of randomness. Th...Genome Evolution, Molecular Evolution, Population Genetics / GenomicsMatteo Fumagalli2023-10-13 11:58:47 View
05 Jun 2018
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The dynamics of preferential host switching: host phylogeny as a key predictor of parasite prevalence and distribution

Shift or stick? Untangling the signatures of biased host switching, and host-parasite co-speciation

Recommended by based on reviews by Damien de Vienne and Nathan Medd

Many emerging diseases arise by parasites switching to new host species, while other parasites seem to remain with same host lineage for very long periods of time, even over timescales where an ancestral host species splits into two or more new species. The ability to understand these dynamics would form an important part of our understanding of infectious disease.

Experiments are clearly important for understanding these processes, but so are comparative studies, investigating the variation that we find in nature. Such comparative data do show strong signs of non-randomness, and this suggests that the epidemiological and ecological processes might be predictable, at least in part. For example, when we map patterns of parasite presence/absence onto host phylogenies, we often find that certain host clades harbour many more parasites than expected, or that closely-related hosts harbour closely-related parasites. Nevertheless, it remains difficult to interpret these patterns to make inferences about ecological and epidemiological processes. This is partly because non-random associations can arise in multiple ways. For example, parasites might be inherited from the common ancestor of related hosts, or might switch to new hosts, but preferentially establish on novel hosts that are closely related to their existing host. Infection might also influence the shape of host phylogeny, either by increasing the rate of host extinction or, conversely, increasing the rate of speciation (as with manipulative symbionts that might induce reproductive isolation).

These various processes have, by and large, been studied in isolation, but the model introduced by Engelstädter and Fortuna [1], makes an important first step towards studying them together. Without such combined analyses, we will not be able to tell if the processes have their own unique signatures, or whether the same sort of non-randomness can arise in multiple ways.

A major finding of the work is that the size of a host clade can be an important determinant of its overall infection level. This had been shown in previous work, assuming that the host phylogeny was fixed, but the current paper shows that it extends also to situations where host extinction and speciation takes place at a comparable rate to host shifting. This finding, then, calls into question the natural assumption that a clade of host species that is highly parasite ridden, must have some genetic or ecological characteristic that makes them particularly prone to infection, arguing that the clade size, rather than any characteristic of the clade members, might be the important factor. It will be interesting to see whether this prediction about clade size is borne out with comparative studies.

Another feature of the study is that the framework is naturally extendable, to include further processes, such as the influence of parasite presence on extinction or speciation rates. No doubt extensions of this kind will form the basis of important future work.


[1] Engelstädter J and Fortuna NZ. 2018. The dynamics of preferential host switching: host phylogeny as a key predictor of parasite prevalence and distribution. bioRxiv 209254 ver. 5 peer-reviewed by Peer Community In Evolutionary Biology. doi: 10.1101/209254

The dynamics of preferential host switching: host phylogeny as a key predictor of parasite prevalence and distributionJan Engelstaedter & Nicole Fortuna<p>New parasites commonly arise through host-shifts, where parasites from one host species jump to and become established in a new host species. There is much evidence that the probability of host-shifts decreases with increasing phylogenetic dist...Bioinformatics & Computational Biology, Evolutionary Epidemiology, Evolutionary Theory, Macroevolution, Phylogenetics / Phylogenomics, Species interactionsLucy Weinert2017-10-30 02:06:06 View
12 Jun 2018
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Transgenerational cues about local mate competition affect offspring sex ratios in the spider mite Tetranychus urticae

Maternal effects in sex-ratio adjustment

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

Optimal sex ratios have been topic of extensive studies so far. Fisherian 1:1 proportions of males and females are known to be optimal in most (diploid) organisms, but many deviations from this golden rule are observed. These deviations not only attract a lot of attention from evolutionary biologists but also from population ecologists as they eventually determine long-term population growth. Because sex ratios are tightly linked to fitness, they can be under strong selection or plastic in response to changing demographic conditions. Hamilton [1] pointed out that an equality of the sex ratio breaks down when there is local competition for mates. Competition for mates can be considered as a special case of local resource competition. In short, this theory predicts females to adjust their offspring sex ratio conditional on cues indicating the level of local mate competition that their sons will experience. When cues indicate high levels of LMC mothers should invest more resources in the production of daughters to maximise their fitness, while offspring sex ratios should be closer to 50:50 when cues indicate low levels of LMC.
In isolated populations, Macke et al. [2] found sex ratio to evolve fast in response to changes in population sex-structure in the spider mite Tetranychus urticae. Spider mites are becoming top-models in evolutionary biology because of their easy housekeeping, fast generation times and well-studied genome [3]. The species is known to respond fast to changes in relatedness and kin-structure by changing its mating strategy [4], but also dispersal [5]. Sex ratio adjustments are likely mediated by differential investments in egg size, with small eggs possibly experiencing lower chances of fertilization, and thus to develop in haploid males [4].
Alison Duncan and colleagues [6] asked the question whether sex ratios change plastically in response to changes in the local population structure. They additionally questioned whether maternal effects could drive changes in sex-allocation of spider mite mothers. Indeed, theory predicts that if environmental changes are predictable across generations, intergenerational plasticity might be more adaptive than intragenerational plasticity [7]. Especially in spatially structured and highly dynamics populations, female spider mites may experience highly variable demographic conditions from one generation to another. During range expansions, spatial variation in local relatedness and inbreeding are documented to change and to impact eco-evolutionary trajectories as well (e.g. [8]).
Duncan et al. [6] specifically investigate whether the offspring sex ratio of T. urticae females changes in response to 1) the current number of females in the same patch, 2) the number of females in the patches of their mothers and 3) their relatedness to their mate. They surprisingly find the maternal environment to be more important than the actual experienced sex-ratio conditions. These insights thus show the maternal environment to be a reliable predictor of LMC experienced by grand-children. Maternal effects have been found to impact many traits, but this study is the first to convincingly demonstrate maternal effects in sex allocation. It therefore provides an alternative explanation of the apparent fast evolved responses under constant demographic conditions [2], and adds evidence to the importance of non-genetic trait changes for adaptation towards changing demographic and environmental conditions.


[1] Hamilton, W. D. (1967). Extraordinary Sex Ratios. Science, 156(3774), 477–488. doi: 10.1126/science.156.3774.477
[2] Macke, E., Magalhães, S., Bach, F., & Olivieri, I. (2011). Experimental evolution of reduced sex ratio adjustment under local mate competition. Science, 334(6059), 1127–1129. doi: 10.1126/science.1212177
[3] Grbić, M., Van Leeuwen, T., Clark, R. M., et al. (2011). The genome of Tetranychus urticae reveals herbivorous pest adaptations. Nature, 479(7374), 487–492. doi: 10.1038/nature10640
[4] Macke, E., Magalhães, S., Bach, F., & Olivieri, I. (2012). Sex-ratio adjustment in response to local mate competition is achieved through an alteration of egg size in a haplodiploid spider mite. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279(1747), 4634–4642. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1598
[5] Bitume, E. V., Bonte, D., Ronce, O., Bach, F., Flaven, E., Olivieri, I., & Nieberding, C. M. (2013). Density and genetic relatedness increase dispersal distance in a subsocial organism. Ecology Letters, 16(4), 430–437. doi: 10.1111/ele.12057
[6] Duncan, A., Marinosci, C., Devaux, C., Lefèvre, S., Magalhães, S., Griffin, J., Valente, A., Ronce, O., Olivieri, I. (2018). Transgenerational cues about local mate competition affect offspring sex ratios in the spider mite Tetranychus urticae. BioRxiv, 240127, ver. 3. doi: 10.1101/240127
[7] Petegem, K. V., Moerman, F., Dahirel, M., Fronhofer, E. A., Vandegehuchte, M. L., Leeuwen, T. V., Wybouw, N., Stoks, R., Bonte, D. (2018). Kin competition accelerates experimental range expansion in an arthropod herbivore. Ecology Letters, 21(2), 225–234. doi: 10.1111/ele.12887
[8] Marshall, D. J., & Uller, T. (2007). When is a maternal effect adaptive? Oikos, 116(12), 1957–1963. doi: 10.1111/j.2007.0030-1299.16203.x

Transgenerational cues about local mate competition affect offspring sex ratios in the spider mite Tetranychus urticaeAlison B. Duncan, Cassandra Marinosci, Céline Devaux, Sophie Lefèvre, Sara Magalhães, Joanne Griffin, Adeline Valente, Ophélie Ronce, Isabelle Olivieri<p style="text-align: justify;">In structured populations, competition between closely related males for mates, termed Local Mate Competition (LMC), is expected to select for female-biased offspring sex ratios. However, the cues underlying sex all...Evolutionary Ecology, Life HistoryDries Bonte2017-12-29 16:10:32 View
05 May 2020
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Meta-population structure and the evolutionary transition to multicellularity

The ecology of evolutionary transitions to multicellularity

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

The evolutionary transition to multicellular life from free-living, single-celled ancestors has occurred independently in multiple lineages [1-5]. This evolutionary transition to cooperative group living can be difficult to explain given the fitness advantages enjoyed by the non-cooperative, single-celled organisms that still numerically dominate life on earth [1,6,7]. Although several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the transition to multicellularity, a common theme is the abatement of the efficacy of natural selection among the single cells during the free-living stage and the promotion of the efficacy of selection among groups of cells during the cooperative stage, an argument reminiscent of those from George Williams’ seminal book [8,9]. The evolution of life cycles appears to be a key step in the transition to multicellularity as it can align fitness advantages of the single-celled 'reproductive' stage with that of the cooperative 'organismal' stage [9-12]. That is, the evolution of life cycles allows natural selection to operate over timescales longer than that of the doubling time of the free-living cells [13]. Despite the importance of this issue, identifying the range of ecological conditions that reduce the importance of natural selection at the single-celled, free-living stage and increase the importance of selection among groups of cooperating cells has not been addressed empirically.
Rose et al [14] addressed this issue in a series of real time evolution experiments with bacteria in which they varied the intensity of between-group versus individual-level selection. Central to the experiment is an ecological scaffold that requires lineages to switch between free-living (reproductive) and group-living (organismal) life-stages. One ecological scenario severely limited natural selection at the single-celled, free-living stage by maintaining separation among the reproductive propagules originating from different organisms (groups of cells derived from a single ancestral cell). A second ecological scenario mixed the reproductive propagules from different organisms, leading to severe competition between single cells derived from both the same and other 'organisms'. These ecological scenarios lead to very different evolutionary outcomes. Limiting competition, and thus natural selection, at the reproductive propagule stage promoted traits that favored organismal fitness at the expense of cell division, while competition among single-cells favored traits that promote cell-level traits at the expense of group-level traits. The authors investigate a range of measures of cell and group-level performance in order to understand the mechanisms favoring organismal versus single-cell fitness. Importantly, an evolutionary trade-off between traits promoting organismal fitness and single-cell fitness appears to constrain maximizing fitness of both phases, especially when strong natural selection acts on the single-cell stage.
This article is incredibly thorough and utilizes multiple experiments and levels of argument in order to support the conclusions. The authors include considerable discussion of broader topics surrounding the immediate hypotheses throughout the article, which add both clarity and complexity. The complexity of the experiments, results, and the topic itself lead to a thought-heavy article in a throwback to the monographs of old; expect to read each section multiple times.


[1] Maynard Smith, J. and Szathmáry, E. (1995). The Major Transitions in Evolution. Oxford, UK: Freeman. p 346.
[2] Bonner, J. T. (1998). The origins of multicellularity. Integrative Biology: Issues, News, and Reviews: Published in Association with The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, 1(1), 27-36. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1520-6602(1998)1:1<27::AID-INBI4>3.0.CO;2-6
[3] Kaiser, D. (2001). Building a multicellular organism. Annual review of genetics, 35(1), 103-123. doi: 10.1146/annurev.genet.35.102401.090145
[4] Medina, M., Collins, A. G., Taylor, J. W., Valentine, J. W., Lipps, J. H., Amaral-Zettler, L., and Sogin, M. L. (2003). Phylogeny of Opisthokonta and the evolution of multicellularity and complexity in Fungi and Metazoa. International Journal of Astrobiology, 2(3), 203-211. doi: 10.1017/S1473550403001551
[5] King, N. (2004). The unicellular ancestry of animal development. Developmental cell, 7(3), 313-325. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2004.08.010
[6] Michod R. E. (1999). Darwinian Dynamics. Evolutionary Transitions in Fitness and Individuality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press. p 262.
[7] Lynch, M. (2007). The frailty of adaptive hypotheses for the origins of organismal complexity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(suppl 1), 8597-8604. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0702207104
[8] Williams, G. C. (1996). Adaptation and Natural Selection, Reprint edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
[9] Grosberg, R. K., and Strathmann, R. R. (2007). The evolution of multicellularity: a minor major transition?. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst., 38, 621-654. doi: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.36.102403.114735
[10] Buss, L. W. (1987). The Evolution of Individuality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
[11] Godfrey-Smith, P. (2009). Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection. Oxford University Press, USA.
[12] Van Gestel, J., and Tarnita, C. E. (2017). On the origin of biological construction, with a focus on multicellularity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(42), 11018-11026. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1704631114
[13] Black, A. J., Bourrat, P., and Rainey, P. B. (2020). Ecological scaffolding and the evolution of individuality. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 4(3), 426-436. doi: 10.1038/s41559-019-1086-9
[14] Rose, C. J., Hammerschmidt, K., Pichugin, Y. and Rainey, P. B. (2020). Meta-population structure and the evolutionary transition to multicellularity. bioRxiv, 407163, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evolutionary Biology. doi: 10.1101/407163

Meta-population structure and the evolutionary transition to multicellularityCaroline J Rose, Katrin Hammerschmidt, Yuriy Pichugin and Paul B Rainey<p>The evolutionary transition to multicellularity has occurred on numerous occasions, but transitions to complex life forms are rare. While the reasons are unclear, relevant factors include the intensity of within- versus between-group selection ...Adaptation, Evolutionary Dynamics, Experimental EvolutionDustin Brisson2019-04-04 12:26:36 View
06 Mar 2023
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Extrinsic mortality and senescence: a guide for the perplexed

Getting old gracefully, and risk of dying before getting there: a new guide to theory on extrinsic mortality and senescence

Recommended by and based on reviews by Nicole Walasek and 1 anonymous reviewer

Why is there such variation across species and populations in the rate at which individuals show wear and tear as they get older? Several compelling theoretical explanations have been developed on the conditions under which selection allows for or prevents senescence; a notable one being that proposed by George C Williams in 1957 based on the idea of antagonistic pleiotropy (Williams, 1957). One of the testable predictions of this theory is that, in populations where adults experience higher mortality, senescence is expected to be faster. This is one of the most influential predictions of the paper, being intuitive (when individuals are less likely to survive to later age classes, we expect weakened selection on traits that would avoid senescence in these classes), and fitting with ‘live fast, die young’ life history framing. As such, it has been widely incorporated into how we think about the evolution of senescence and has received considerable support in comparative studies across species and populations.  

However, it would be misleading to sit back at this point and think we have ‘solved’ the problem of understanding variation in senescence, and how this is linked with mortality. It turns out that the Williams 1957 paper is hotly contested by theoreticians: for the past 30 years – with increasing focus in the last 4 years – a growing body of models and opinion pieces have proposed flaws in the paper itself and in how it has been interpreted (Abrams, 1993; André and Rousset, 2020; Day and Abrams, 2020; Moorad et al., 2019). Central to several of these critiques is that explicit consideration of density dependence (not considered in Williams’ original paper) changes the conditions under which his predictions hold. A new preprint by de Vries, Gallipaud and Kokko brings further clarity to such critiques of the original paper (Vries et al., 2023). 

Beyond just continuing the tradition of critiquing Williams’ prediction, however, de Vries et al. provide a clear guide that is accessible to non-theoreticians about the issues with William’s prediction, and the way in which density dependence and how it operates can change when we expect senescence to occur. Rather than reiterate their points here, we suggest a close reading of the paper itself, along with an excellent overview of the paper in a recent blog by Daniel Nettle (Nettle, 2022). In brief, the paper starts by synthesizing earlier theoretical and empirical studies on the topic and presenting a very simple model to highlight how – in the absence of density dependence – Williams’ prediction does not hold because of the unregulated population growth, which is necessarily higher when there is low mortality. As a result, for a lineage with low mortality, any fitness advantage of placing offspring into the lineage later (i.e. selection for reduced senescence) is exactly cancelled out by the fact that earlier-produced offspring have higher fitness returns. 

They then present a more complex framework, which incorporates realistic mortality distributions, trade-offs between survival and reproduction, and use a series of 10 scenarios of density dependence (and whether this acts on survival or fecundity, and also whether it depends on a threshold or stochastic, or exerts continuing pressure on the trait) to explore selection on fitness-associated traits with age depending on extrinsic mortality. This then generates a range of results for when the Williams prediction holds, when there is no link between mortality and senescence, and when there is an ‘anti-Williams’ result – i.e., where senescence is slower when there is a high mortality. As has been shown in earlier studies, density dependence and how it operates matters, and Williams’ prediction holds most when density dependence affects juvenile age classes (in their model, when adults are less likely to produce them – i.e. there is density dependence on fecundity; or when there is less recruitment into the adult population due to, for example, competition among juveniles). 

So, perhaps we are now at a point where we can lay to rest the debate on the issues specifically with Williams’ original paper, and instead consider more broadly the key factors to measure when predicting patterns of senescence, and what is tangible for empiricists to quantify in their studies. Here, de Vries et al. provide some helpful insights both into the limitations of their approach and what modelling should be done moving forward, and into how we can link existing studies (for example comparing senescence among populations with varying predation pressure) to the theoretical predictions. At the heart of the latter is understanding the mechanism of density-dependent regulation – does it affect survival or fecundity, which age classes are most sensitive, and how do key traits depend on density? – and this is often difficult to measure in field studies.

And from all this we can learn that even very intuitive and extensively discussed concepts in biology do not always have as firm theoretical underpinnings as assumed, and – as should not be surprising – biology is complex and rather than one clear pattern being predicted, this can depend on a multitude of factors. 


Abrams PA (1993) Does increased mortality favor the evolution of more rapid senescence? Evolution, 47, 877–887.

André J-B, Rousset F (2020) Does extrinsic mortality accelerate the pace of life? A bare-bones approach. Evolution and Human Behavior, 41, 486–492.

Day T, Abrams PA (2020) Density Dependence, Senescence, and Williams’ Hypothesis. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 35, 300–302.

Moorad J, Promislow D, Silvertown J (2019) Evolutionary Ecology of Senescence and a Reassessment of Williams’ ‘Extrinsic Mortality’ Hypothesis. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 34, 519–530.

Nettle AD (2022) Live fast and die young (maybe). (accessed 2.27.23).

de Vries C, Galipaud M, Kokko H (2023) Extrinsic mortality and senescence: a guide for the perplexed. bioRxiv, 2022.01.27.478060, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

Williams GC (1957) Pleiotropy, natural selection, and the evolution of senescence. Evolution, 11, 398–411.

Extrinsic mortality and senescence: a guide for the perplexedCharlotte de Vries, Matthias Galipaud, Hanna Kokko<p style="text-align: justify;">Do environments or species traits that lower the mortality of individuals create selection for delaying senescence? Reading the literature creates an impression that mathematically oriented biologists cannot agree o...Evolutionary Dynamics, Evolutionary Ecology, Evolutionary Theory, Life HistorySinead English2022-08-26 14:30:16 View
22 May 2023
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Weak seed banks influence the signature and detectability of selective sweeps

New insights into the dynamics of selective sweeps in seed-banked species

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Guillaume Achaz, Jere Koskela, William Shoemaker and Simon Boitard

Many organisms across the Tree of life have the ability to produce seeds, eggs, cysts, or spores, that can remain dormant for several generations before hatching. This widespread adaptive trait in bacteria, fungi, plants and animals, has a significant impact on the ecology, population dynamics and population genetics of species that express it (Evans and Dennehy 2005).

In population genetics, and despite the recognition of its evolutionary importance in many empirical studies, few theoretical models have been developed to characterize the evolutionary consequences of this trait on the level and distribution of neutral genetic diversity (see, e.g., Kaj et al. 2001; Vitalis et al. 2004), and also on the dynamics of selected alleles (see, e.g., Živković and Tellier 2018). However, due to the complexity of the interactions between evolutionary forces in the presence of dormancy, the fate of selected mutations in their genomic environment is not yet fully understood, even from the most recently developed models.

In a comprehensive article, Korfmann et al. (2023) aim to fill this gap by investigating the effect of germ banking on the probability of (and time to) fixation of beneficial mutations, as well as on the shape of the selective sweep in their vicinity. To this end, Korfmann et al. (2023) developed and released their own forward-in-time simulator of genome-wide data, including neutral and selected polymorphisms, that makes use of Kelleher et al.’s (2018) tree sequence toolkit to keep track of gene genealogies.

The originality of Korfmann et al.’s (2023) study is to provide new quantitative results for the effect of dormancy on the time to fixation of positively selected mutations, the shape of the genomic landscape in the vicinity of these mutations, and the temporal dynamics of selective sweeps. Their major finding is the prediction that germ banking creates narrower signatures of sweeps around positively selected sites, which are detectable for increased periods of time (as compared to a standard Wright-Fisher population).

The availability of Korfmann et al.’s (2023) code will allow a wider range of parameter values to be explored, to extend their results to the particularities of the biology of many species. However, as they chose to extend the haploid coalescent model of Kaj et al. (2001), further development is needed to confirm the robustness of their results with a more realistic diploid model of seed dormancy.


Evans, M. E. K., and J. J. Dennehy (2005) Germ banking: bet-hedging and variable release from egg and seed dormancy. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 80(4): 431-451.

Kaj, I., S. Krone, and M. Lascoux (2001) Coalescent theory for seed bank models. Journal of Applied Probability, 38(2): 285-300.

Kelleher, J., K. R. Thornton, J. Ashander, and P. L. Ralph (2018) Efficient pedigree recording for fast population genetics simulation. PLoS Computational Biology, 14(11): e1006581.

Korfmann, K., D. Abu Awad, and A. Tellier (2023) Weak seed banks influence the signature and detectability of selective sweeps. bioRxiv, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

Vitalis, R., S. Glémin, and I. Olivieri (2004) When genes go to sleep: the population genetic consequences of seed dormancy and monocarpic perenniality. American Naturalist, 163(2): 295-311.

Živković, D., and A. Tellier (2018). All but sleeping? Consequences of soil seed banks on neutral and selective diversity in plant species. Mathematical Modelling in Plant Biology, 195-212.

Weak seed banks influence the signature and detectability of selective sweepsKevin Korfmann, Diala Abu Awad, Aurélien Tellier<p style="text-align: justify;">Seed banking (or dormancy) is a widespread bet-hedging strategy, generating a form of population overlap, which decreases the magnitude of genetic drift. The methodological complexity of integrating this trait impli...Adaptation, Bioinformatics & Computational Biology, Evolutionary Applications, Evolutionary Ecology, Genome Evolution, Life History, Population Genetics / GenomicsRenaud Vitalis2022-05-23 13:01:57 View
18 Aug 2020
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Early phylodynamics analysis of the COVID-19 epidemics in France

SARS-Cov-2 genome sequence analysis suggests rapid spread followed by epidemic slowdown in France

Recommended by based on reviews by Luca Ferretti and 2 anonymous reviewers

Sequencing and analyzing SARS-Cov-2 genomes in nearly real time has the potential to quickly confirm (and inform) our knowledge of, and response to, the current pandemic [1,2]. In this manuscript [3], Danesh and colleagues use the earliest set of available SARS-Cov-2 genome sequences available from France to make inferences about the timing of the major epidemic wave, the duration of infections, and the efficacy of lockdown measures. Their phylodynamic estimates -- based on fitting genomic data to molecular clock and transmission models -- are reassuringly close to estimates based on 'traditional' epidemiological methods: the French epidemic likely began in mid-January or early February 2020, and spread relatively rapidly (doubling every 3-5 days), with people remaining infectious for a median of 5 days [4,5]. These transmission parameters are broadly in line with estimates from China [6,7], but are currently unknown in France (in the absence of contact tracing data). By estimating the temporal reproductive number (Rt), the authors detected a slowing down of the epidemic in the most recent period of the study, after mid-March, supporting the efficacy of lockdown measures.
Along with the three other reviewers of this manuscript, I was impressed with the careful and exhaustive phylodynamic analyses reported by Danesh et al. [3]. Notably, they take care to show that the major results are robust to the choice of priors and to sampling. The authors are also careful to note that the results are based on a limited sample size of SARS-Cov-2 genomes, which may not be representative of all regions in France. Their analysis also focused on the dominant SARS-Cov-2 lineage circulating in France, which is also circulating in other countries. The variations they inferred in epidemic growth in France could therefore be reflective on broader control policies in Europe, not only those in France. Clearly more work is needed to fully unravel which control policies (and where) were most effective in slowing the spread of SARS-Cov-2, but Danesh et al. [3] set a solid foundation to build upon with more data. Overall this is an exemplary study, enabled by rapid and open sharing of sequencing data, which provides a template to be replicated and expanded in other countries and regions as they deal with their own localized instances of this pandemic.


[1] Grubaugh, N. D., Ladner, J. T., Lemey, P., Pybus, O. G., Rambaut, A., Holmes, E. C., & Andersen, K. G. (2019). Tracking virus outbreaks in the twenty-first century. Nature microbiology, 4(1), 10-19. doi: 10.1038/s41564-018-0296-2
[2] Fauver et al. (2020) Coast-to-Coast Spread of SARS-CoV-2 during the Early Epidemic in the United States. Cell, 181(5), 990-996.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.04.021
[3] Danesh, G., Elie, B., Michalakis, Y., Sofonea, M. T., Bal, A., Behillil, S., Destras, G., Boutolleau, D., Burrel, S., Marcelin, A.-G., Plantier, J.-C., Thibault, V., Simon-Loriere, E., van der Werf, S., Lina, B., Josset, L., Enouf, V. and Alizon, S. and the COVID SMIT PSL group (2020) Early phylodynamics analysis of the COVID-19 epidemic in France. medRxiv, 2020.06.03.20119925, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evolutionary Biology. doi: 10.1101/2020.06.03.20119925
[4] Salje et al. (2020) Estimating the burden of SARS-CoV-2 in France.
[5] Sofonea, M. T., Reyné, B., Elie, B., Djidjou-Demasse, R., Selinger, C., Michalakis, Y. and Samuel Alizon, S. (2020) Epidemiological monitoring and control perspectives: application of a parsimonious modelling framework to the COVID-19 dynamics in France. medRxiv, 2020.05.22.20110593. doi: 10.1101/2020.05.22.20110593
[6] Rambaut, A. (2020) Phylogenetic analysis of nCoV-2019 genomes.
[7] Li et al. (2020) Early transmission dynamics in Wuhan, China, of novel coronavirus–infected pneumonia. N Engl J Med, 382: 1199-1207. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2001316

Early phylodynamics analysis of the COVID-19 epidemics in FranceGonché Danesh, Baptiste Elie,Yannis Michalakis, Mircea T. Sofonea, Antonin Bal, Sylvie Behillil, Grégory Destras, David Boutolleau, Sonia Burrel, Anne-Geneviève Marcelin, Jean-Christophe Plantier, Vincent Thibault, Etienne Simon-Loriere, Sylvie va...<p>France was one of the first countries to be reached by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we analyse 196 SARS-Cov-2 genomes collected between Jan 24 and Mar 24 2020, and perform a phylodynamics analysis. In particular, we analyse the doubling time, r...Evolutionary Epidemiology, Molecular Evolution, Phylogenetics / PhylogenomicsB. Jesse Shapiro2020-06-04 13:13:57 View