Testing for epistasis between deleterious mutations
West SA., Peters AD., Barton NH.
Determining the way in which deleterious mutations interact in their effects on fitness is crucial to numerous areas in population genetics and evolutionary biology. For example, if each additional mutation leads to a greater decrease in log fitness than the last (synergistic epistasis), then the evolution of sex and recombination may be favored to facilitate the elimination of deleterious mutations. However, there is a severe shortage of relevant data. Three relatively simple experimental methods to test for epistasis between deleterious mutations in haploid species have recently been proposed. These methods involve crossing individuals and examining the mean and/or skew in log fitness of the offspring and parents. The main aim of this paper is to formalize these methods, and determine the most effective way in which tests for epistasis could be carried out. We show that only one of these methods is likely to give useful results: crossing individuals that have very different numbers of deleterious mutations, and comparing the mean log fitness of the parents with that of their offspring. We also reconsider experimental data collected on Chlamydomonas moewussi using two of the three methods. Finally, we suggest how the test could be applied to diploid species.