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The geometry of a population affects the speed of genetic change

New research shows that the way a is arranged can alter the rate of . Investigators at in Boston and at used mathematical modeling to challenge about how our genomes change over time.

The findings, published in , concern neutral or “silent” mutations – random genetic changes that do not affect the organism but can be passed on to offspring. Previous research suggested that these changes accrue at a predictable rate over time, forming a kind of “molecular clock”. This study shows that the spatial layout of a population’s habitat can change the rate at which this clock ticks.

Diagram of a real-world Twitter network among 80 users
A real-world Twitter network among 80 users. This network, like the vast majority of those studied, hinders the chances of ordinary (non-viral) ideas to become established.
Image Credit: Benjamin Allen, based on data from the Stanford Large Network Dataset Collection


The Molecular Clock of Neutral Evolution Can Be Accelerated or Slowed by Asymmetric Spatial Structure, Allen B, Sample C, Dementieva Y, Medeiros RC, Paoletti C, Nowak MA, PLoS Comput Biol, doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004108, published 26 February 2015.

BA and MAN are supported by the Foundational Questions in Evolutionary Biology initiative of the John Templeton Foundation, RFP-12- 02. http://www.templeton.org/node/1521. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.