Old trade, new tricks: insights into the spontaneous mutation process from the partnering of classical mutation accumulation experiments with high-throughput genomic approaches Academic Article uri icon


  • Mutations spawn genetic variation which, in turn, fuels evolution. Hence, experimental investigations into the rate and fitness effects of spontaneous mutations are central to the study of evolution. Mutation accumulation (MA) experiments have served as a cornerstone for furthering our understanding of spontaneous mutations for four decades. In the pregenomic era, phenotypic measurements of fitness-related traits in MA lines were used to indirectly estimate key mutational parameters, such as the genomic mutation rate, new mutational variance per generation, and the average fitness effect of mutations. Rapidly emerging next-generating sequencing technology has supplanted this phenotype-dependent approach, enabling direct empirical estimates of the mutation rate and a more nuanced understanding of the relative contributions of different classes of mutations to the standing genetic variation. Whole-genome sequencing of MA lines bears immense potential to provide a unified account of the evolutionary process at multiple levels-the genetic basis of variation, and the evolutionary dynamics of mutations under the forces of selection and drift. In this review, we have attempted to synthesize key insights into the spontaneous mutation process that are rapidly emerging from the partnering of classical MA experiments with high-throughput sequencing, with particular emphasis on the spontaneous rates and molecular properties of different mutational classes in nuclear and mitochondrial genomes of diverse taxa, the contribution of mutations to the evolution of gene expression, and the rate and stability of transgenerational epigenetic modifications. Future advances in sequencing technologies will enable greater species representation to further refine our understanding of mutational parameters and their functional consequences.

altmetric score

  • 8.75

author list (cited authors)

  • Katju, V., & Bergthorsson, U.

citation count

  • 35

publication date

  • November 2018