Mutation Induced Extinction in Finite Populations: Lethal Mutagenesis and Lethal Isolation

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Mutation Induced Extinction in Finite Populations: Lethal Mutagenesis and Lethal Isolation

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Title: Mutation Induced Extinction in Finite Populations: Lethal Mutagenesis and Lethal Isolation
Author: Wylie, Christopher Scott; Shakhnovich, Eugene Isaacovitch

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Citation: Wylie, C. Scott, and Eugene I. Shakhnovich. 2012. Mutation induced extinction in finite populations: lethal mutagenesis and lethal isolation. PLoS Computational Biology 8(8): e1002609.
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Abstract: Reproduction is inherently risky, in part because genomic replication can introduce new mutations that are usually deleterious toward fitness. This risk is especially severe for organisms whose genomes replicate “semi-conservatively,” e.g. viruses and bacteria, where no master copy of the genome is preserved. Lethal mutagenesis refers to extinction of populations due to an unbearably high mutation rate (U), and is important both theoretically and clinically, where drugs can extinguish pathogens by increasing their mutation rate. Previous theoretical models of lethal mutagenesis assume infinite population size (N). However, in addition to high U, small N can accelerate extinction by strengthening genetic drift and relaxing selection. Here, we examine how the time until extinction depends jointly on N and U. We first analytically compute the mean time until extinction (τ) in a simplistic model where all mutations are either lethal or neutral. The solution motivates the definition of two distinct regimes: a survival phase and an extinction phase, which differ dramatically in both how τ scales with N and in the coefficient of variation in time until extinction. Next, we perform stochastic population-genetics simulations on a realistic fitness landscape that both (i) features an epistatic distribution of fitness effects that agrees with experimental data on viruses and (ii) is based on the biophysics of protein folding. More specifically, we assume that mutations inflict fitness penalties proportional to the extent that they unfold proteins. We find that decreasing N can cause phase transition-like behavior from survival to extinction, which motivates the concept of “lethal isolation.” Furthermore, we find that lethal mutagenesis and lethal isolation interact synergistically, which may have clinical implications for treating infections. Broadly, we conclude that stably folded proteins are only possible in ecological settings that support sufficiently large populations.
Published Version: doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002609
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