Extensive de novo mutation rate variation between individuals and across the genome of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii

Robert W Ness, Andrew D. Morgan, Radhakrishnan B. Vasanthakrishnan, Nick Colegrave, Peter Keightley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Describing the process of spontaneous mutation is fundamental for understanding the genetic basis of disease, the threat posed by declining population size in conservation biology, and much of evolutionary biology. Directly studying spontaneous mutation has been difficult, however, because new mutations are rare. Mutation accumulation (MA) experiments overcome this by allowing mutations to build up over many generations in the near absence of natural selection. Here, we sequenced the genomes of 85 MA lines derived from six genetically diverse strains of the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. We identified 6843 new mutations, more than any other study of spontaneous mutation. We observed sevenfold variation in the mutation rate among strains and that mutator genotypes arose, increasing the mutation rate approximately eightfold in some replicates. We also found evidence for fine-scale heterogeneity in the mutation rate, with certain sequence motifs mutating at much higher rates, and clusters of multiple mutations occurring at closely linked sites. There was little evidence, however, for mutation rate heterogeneity between chromosomes or over large genomic regions of 200 kbp. We generated a predictive model of the mutability of sites based on their genomic properties, including local GC content, gene expression level, and local sequence context. Our model accurately predicted the average mutation rate and natural levels of genetic diversity of sites across the genome. Notably, trinucleotides vary 17-fold in rate between the most and least mutable sites. Our results uncover a rich heterogeneity in the process of spontaneous mutation both among individuals and across the genome.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1739-1749
Number of pages12
JournalGenome Research
Issue number11
Early online date10 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015


  • mutation rate
  • spontaneous mutation
  • chlamydomonas reinhardtii


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