Fixation of a deleterious allele under mutation pressure and finite selection intensity

Michael Assaf, Mauro Mobilia*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The mean fixation time of a deleterious mutant allele is studied beyond the diffusion approximation. As in Kimura's classical work [M. Kimura, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 77, 522 (1980)], that was motivated by the problem of fixation in the presence of amorphic or hypermorphic mutations, we consider a diallelic model at a single locus comprising a wild-type A and a mutant allele A' produced irreversibly from A at small uniform rate v. The relative fitnesses of the mutant homozygotes A'A', mutant heterozygotes A'A and wild-type homozygotes AA are 1-s, 1-h and 1, respectively, where it is assumed that v≪s. Here, we employ a WKB theory and directly treat the underlying Markov chain (formulated as a birth-death process) obeyed by the allele frequency (whose dynamics is prescribed by the Moran model). Importantly, this approach allows to accurately account for effects of large fluctuations. After a general description of the theory, we focus on the case of a deleterious mutant allele (i.e. s>0) and discuss three situations: when the mutant is (i) completely dominant (s=h); (ii) completely recessive (h=0), and (iii) semi-dominant (h=s/2). Our theoretical predictions for the mean fixation time and the quasi-stationary distribution of the mutant population in the coexistence state, are shown to be in excellent agreement with numerical simulations. Furthermore, when s is finite, we demonstrate that our results are superior to those of the diffusion theory, while the latter is shown to be an accurate approximation only when Nes2≪1, where N e is the effective population size.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)93-103
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 21 Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
M.A. would like to acknowledge support from the Rothschild and Fulbright Foundations.


  • Birth-death processes
  • Diffusion and large fluctuations
  • Fixation
  • Genetic drift and selection
  • Theory of population dynamics and genetics


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