Rapid Increase in frequency of gene copy-number variants during experimental evolution in Caenorhabditis elegans. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: Gene copy-number variation (CNVs), which provides the raw material for the evolution of novel genes, is widespread in natural populations. We investigated whether CNVs constitute a common mechanism of genetic change during adaptation in experimental Caenorhabditis elegans populations. Outcrossing C. elegans populations with low fitness were evolved for >200 generations. The frequencies of CNVs in these populations were analyzed by oligonucleotide array comparative genome hybridization, quantitative PCR, PCR, DNA sequencing across breakpoints, and single-worm PCR. RESULTS: Multiple duplications and deletions rose to intermediate or high frequencies in independent populations. Several lines of evidence suggest that these changes were adaptive: (i) copy-number changes reached high frequency or were fixed in a short time, (ii) many independent populations harbored CNVs spanning the same genes, and (iii) larger average size of CNVs in adapting populations relative to spontaneous CNVs. The latter is expected if larger CNVs are more likely to encompass genes under selection for a change in gene dosage. Several convergent CNVs originated in populations descended from different low fitness ancestors as well as high fitness controls. CONCLUSIONS: We show that gene copy-number changes are a common class of adaptive genetic change. Due to the high rates of origin of spontaneous duplications and deletions, copy-number changes containing the same genes arose readily in independent populations. Duplications that reached high frequencies in these adapting populations were significantly larger in span. Many convergent CNVs may be general adaptations to laboratory conditions. These results demonstrate the great potential borne by CNVs for evolutionary adaptation.

published proceedings

  • BMC Genomics

altmetric score

  • 3.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Farslow, J. C., Lipinski, K. J., Packard, L. B., Edgley, M. L., Taylor, J., Flibotte, S., ... Bergthorsson, U

citation count

  • 33

complete list of authors

  • Farslow, James C||Lipinski, Kendra J||Packard, Lucille B||Edgley, Mark L||Taylor, Jon||Flibotte, Stephane||Moerman, Donald G||Katju, Vaishali||Bergthorsson, Ulfar

publication date

  • December 2015