The Phenotype-Fitness Map in Experimental Evolution of Phages




Bull, James J.
Heineman, Richard H.
Wilke, Claus O.

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Public Library of Science


Evolutionary biologists commonly interpret adaptations of organisms by reference to a phenotype-fitness map, a model of how different states of a phenotype affect fitness. Notwithstanding the popularity of this approach, it remains difficult to directly test these mappings, both because the map often describes only a small subset of phenotypes contributing to total fitness and because direct measures of fitness are difficult to obtain and compare to the map. Both limitations can be overcome for bacterial viruses (phages) grown in the experimental condition of unlimited hosts. A complete accounting of fitness requires 3 easily measured phenotypes, and total fitness is also directly measurable for arbitrary genotypes. Yet despite the presumed transparency of this system, directly estimated fitnesses often differ from fitnesses calculated from the phenotype-fitness map. This study attempts to resolve these discrepancies, both by developing a more exact analytical phenotype-fitness map and by exploring the empirical foundations of direct fitness estimates. We derive an equation (the phenotype-fitness map) for exponential phage growth that allows an arbitrary distribution of lysis times and burst sizes. We also show that direct estimates of fitness are, in many cases, plausibly in error because the population has not attained stable age distribution and thus violates the model underlying the phenotype-fitness map. In conjunction with data provided here, the new understanding appears to resolve a discrepancy between the reported fitness of phage T7 and the substantially lower value calculated from its phenotype-fitness map.


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Bull JJ, Heineman RH, Wilke CO (2011) The Phenotype-Fitness Map in Experimental Evolution of Phages. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27796. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027796