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Genetics 2000 Sep;156(1):143-54

Properties of ethylmethane sulfonate-induced mutations affecting life-history traits in Caenorhabditis elegans and inferences about bivariate distributions of mutation effects.

Keightley PD, Davies EK, Peters AD, Shaw RG

Institute of Cell, Animal and Population Biology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, Scotland.

The homozygous effects of ethylmethane sulfonate (EMS)-induced mutations in Caenorhabditis elegans are compared across life-history traits. Mutagenesis has a greater effect on early than late reproductive output, since EMS-induced mutations tend to cause delayed reproduction. Mutagenesis changes the mean and variance of longevity much less than reproductive output traits. Mutations that increase total or early productivity are not detected, but the net effect of mutations is to increase and decrease late productivity to approximately equal extents. Although most mutations decrease longevity, a mutant line with increased longevity was found. A flattening of mortality curves with age is noted, particularly in EMS lines. We infer that less than one-tenth of mutations that have fitness effects in natural conditions are detected in the laboratory, and such mutations have moderately large effects ( approximately 20% of the mean). Mutational correlations for life-history traits are strong and positive. Correlations between early or late productivity and longevity are of similar magnitude. We develop a maximum-likelihood procedure to infer bivariate distributions of mutation effects. We show that strong mutation-induced genetic correlations do not necessarily imply strong directional correlations between mutational effects, since correlation is also generated by lines carrying different numbers of mutations.