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Concept: Artificial selection


How wolves were first domesticated is unknown. One hypothesis suggests that wolves underwent a process of self-domestication by tolerating human presence and taking advantage of scavenging possibilities. The puppy-like physical and behavioural traits seen in dogs are thought to have evolved later, as a byproduct of selection against aggression. Using speed of selection from rehoming shelters as a proxy for artificial selection, we tested whether paedomorphic features give dogs a selective advantage in their current environment. Dogs who exhibited facial expressions that enhance their neonatal appearance were preferentially selected by humans. Thus, early domestication of wolves may have occurred not only as wolf populations became tamer, but also as they exploited human preferences for paedomorphic characteristics. These findings, therefore, add to our understanding of early dog domestication as a complex co-evolutionary process.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Selective breeding, Selection, Domestication, Dog, Artificial selection, Gray Wolf


Recent experimental results with humans involved in social dilemma games suggest that cooperation may be a contagious phenomenon and that the selection pressure operating on evolutionary dynamics (i.e., mimicry) is relatively weak. I propose an evolutionary dynamics model that links these experimental findings and evolution of cooperation. By assuming a small fraction of (imperfect) zealous cooperators, I show that a large fraction of cooperation emerges in evolutionary dynamics of social dilemma games. Even if defection is more lucrative than cooperation for most individuals, they often mimic cooperation of fellows unless the selection pressure is very strong. Then, zealous cooperators can transform the population to be even fully cooperative under standard evolutionary dynamics.

Concepts: Natural selection, Biology, Insect, Evolutionary biology, Population genetics, Artificial selection


The exclusion of freeriders from common privileges or public acceptance is widely found in the real world. Current models on the evolution of cooperation with incentives mostly assume peer sanctioning, whereby a punisher imposes penalties on freeriders at a cost to itself. It is well known that such costly punishment has two substantial difficulties. First, a rare punishing cooperator barely subverts the asocial society of freeriders, and second, natural selection often eliminates punishing cooperators in the presence of non-punishing cooperators (namely, ‘second-order’ freeriders). We present a game-theoretical model of social exclusion in which a punishing cooperator can exclude freeriders from benefit sharing. We show that such social exclusion can overcome the above-mentioned difficulties even if it is costly and stochastic. The results do not require a genetic relationship, repeated interaction, reputation or group selection. Instead, only a limited number of freeriders are required to prevent the second-order freeriders from eroding the social immune system.

Concepts: Immune system, Mutation, Natural selection, Evolution, Sociology, Population genetics, The Evolution of Cooperation, Artificial selection


Growing evidence indicates that the mammalian microbiome can affect behaviour, and several symbionts even produce neurotransmitters. One common explanation for these observations is that symbionts have evolved to manipulate host behaviour for their benefit. Here, we evaluate the manipulation hypothesis by applying evolutionary theory to recent work on the gut-brain axis. Although the theory predicts manipulation by symbionts under certain conditions, these appear rarely satisfied by the genetically diverse communities of the mammalian microbiome. Specifically, any symbiont investing its resources to manipulate host behaviour is expected to be outcompeted within the microbiome by strains that do not manipulate and redirect their resources into growth and survival. Moreover, current data provide no clear evidence for manipulation. Instead, we show how behavioural effects can readily arise as a by-product of natural selection on microorganisms to grow within the host and natural selection on hosts to depend upon their symbionts. We argue that understanding why the microbiome influences behaviour requires a focus on microbial ecology and local effects within the host.

Concepts: Natural selection, Bacteria, Evolution, Biology, Life, Symbiosis, Artificial selection, Charles Darwin


Animal venoms are theorized to evolve under the significant influence of positive Darwinian selection in a chemical arms race scenario, where the evolution of venom resistance in prey and the invention of potent venom in the secreting animal exert reciprocal selection pressures. Venom research to date has mainly focused on evolutionarily younger lineages, such as snakes and cone snails, while mostly neglecting ancient clades (e.g., cnidarians, coleoids, spiders and centipedes). By examining genome, venom-gland transcriptome and sequences from the public repositories, we report the molecular evolutionary regimes of several centipede and spider toxin families, which surprisingly accumulated low-levels of sequence variations, despite their long evolutionary histories. Molecular evolutionary assessment of over 3500 nucleotide sequences from 85 toxin families spanning the breadth of the animal kingdom has unraveled a contrasting evolutionary strategy employed by ancient and evolutionarily young clades. We show that the venoms of ancient lineages remarkably evolve under the heavy constraints of negative selection, while toxin families in lineages that originated relatively recently rapidly diversify under the influence of positive selection. We propose that animal venoms mostly employ a ‘two-speed’ mode of evolution, where the major influence of diversifying selection accompanies the earlier stages of ecological specialization (e.g., diet and range expansion) in the evolutionary history of the species-the period of expansion, resulting in the rapid diversification of the venom arsenal, followed by longer periods of purifying selection that preserve the potent toxin pharmacopeia-the period of purification and fixation. However, species in the period of purification may re-enter the period of expansion upon experiencing a major shift in ecology or environment. Thus, we highlight for the first time the significant roles of purifying and episodic selections in shaping animal venoms.

Concepts: Genetics, Natural selection, Evolution, Evolutionary biology, Selection, Artificial selection, Charles Darwin, Venom


The protein-folding chaperone Hsp90 has been proposed to buffer the phenotypic effects of mutations. The potential for Hsp90 and other putative buffers to increase robustness to mutation has had major impact on disease models, quantitative genetics, and evolutionary theory. But Hsp90 sometimes contradicts expectations for a buffer by potentiating rapid phenotypic changes that would otherwise not occur. Here, we quantify Hsp90’s ability to buffer or potentiate (i.e., diminish or enhance) the effects of genetic variation on single-cell morphological features in budding yeast. We corroborate reports that Hsp90 tends to buffer the effects of standing genetic variation in natural populations. However, we demonstrate that Hsp90 tends to have the opposite effect on genetic variation that has experienced reduced selection pressure. Specifically, Hsp90 tends to enhance, rather than diminish, the effects of spontaneous mutations and recombinations. This result implies that Hsp90 does not make phenotypes more robust to the effects of genetic perturbation. Instead, natural selection preferentially allows buffered alleles to persist and thereby creates the false impression that Hsp90 confers greater robustness.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Natural selection, Genotype, Evolution, Population genetics, Artificial selection


Conditional social behaviours such as partner choice and reciprocity are held to be key mechanisms facilitating the evolution of cooperation, particularly in humans. Although how these mechanisms select for cooperation has been explored extensively, their potential to select simultaneously for complex cheating strategies has been largely overlooked. Tactical deception, the misrepresentation of the state of the world to another individual, may allow cheaters to exploit conditional cooperation by tactically misrepresenting their past actions and/or current intentions. Here we first use a simple game-theoretic model to show that the evolution of cooperation can create selection pressures favouring the evolution of tactical deception. This effect is driven by deception weakening cheater detection in conditional cooperators, allowing tactical deceivers to elicit cooperation at lower costs, while simple cheats are recognized and discriminated against. We then provide support for our theoretical predictions using a comparative analysis of deception across primate species. Our results suggest that the evolution of conditional strategies may, in addition to promoting cooperation, select for astute cheating and associated psychological abilities. Ultimately, our ability to convincingly lie to each other may have evolved as a direct result of our cooperative nature.

Concepts: Natural selection, Species, Evolutionary biology, Population genetics, The Evolution of Cooperation, Artificial selection, Academic dishonesty, Cheating


Tameness is a major behavioral factor for domestication, and can be divided into two potential components: motivation to approach humans (active tameness) and reluctance to avoid humans (passive tameness). We identified genetic loci for active tameness through selective breeding, selection mapping, and association analysis. In previous work using laboratory and wild mouse strains, we found that laboratory strains were predominantly selected for passive tameness but not active tameness during their domestication. To identify genetic regions associated with active tameness, we applied selective breeding over 9 generations for contacting, a behavioural parameter strongly associated with active tameness. The prerequisite for successful selective breeding is high genetic variation in the target population, so we established and used a novel resource, wild-derived heterogeneous stock (WHS) mice from eight wild strains. The mice had genetic variations not present in other outbred mouse populations. Selective breeding of the WHS mice increased the contacting level through the generations. Selection mapping was applied to the selected population using a simulation based on a non-selection model and inferred haplotype data derived from single-nucleotide polymorphisms. We found a genomic signature for selection on chromosome 11 containing two closely linked loci.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Bioinformatics, Natural selection, Population genetics, Selective breeding, Selection, Artificial selection


Population bottlenecks, inbreeding, and artificial selection can all, in principle, influence levels of deleterious genetic variation. However, the relative importance of each of these effects on genome-wide patterns of deleterious variation remains controversial. Domestic and wild canids offer a powerful system to address the role of these factors in influencing deleterious variation because their history is dominated by known bottlenecks and intense artificial selection. Here, we assess genome-wide patterns of deleterious variation in 90 whole-genome sequences from breed dogs, village dogs, and gray wolves. We find that the ratio of amino acid changing heterozygosity to silent heterozygosity is higher in dogs than in wolves and, on average, dogs have 2-3% higher genetic load than gray wolves. Multiple lines of evidence indicate this pattern is driven by less efficient natural selection due to bottlenecks associated with domestication and breed formation, rather than recent inbreeding. Further, we find regions of the genome implicated in selective sweeps are enriched for amino acid changing variants and Mendelian disease genes. To our knowledge, these results provide the first quantitative estimates of the increased burden of deleterious variants directly associated with domestication and have important implications for selective breeding programs and the conservation of rare and endangered species. Specifically, they highlight the costs associated with selective breeding and question the practice favoring the breeding of individuals that best fit breed standards. Our results also suggest that maintaining a large population size, rather than just avoiding inbreeding, is a critical factor for preventing the accumulation of deleterious variants.

Concepts: Genetics, Natural selection, Evolution, Population genetics, Selective breeding, Selection, Artificial selection, Canidae


Brilliant animal colors often are produced from light interacting with intricate nano-morphologies present in biological materials such as butterfly wing scales. Surveys across widely divergent butterfly species have identified multiple mechanisms of structural color production; however, little is known about how these colors evolved. Here, we examine how closely related species and populations of Bicyclus butterflies have evolved violet structural color from brown-pigmented ancestors with UV structural color. We used artificial selection on a laboratory model butterfly, B. anynana, to evolve violet scales from UV brown scales and compared the mechanism of violet color production with that of two other Bicyclus species, Bicyclus sambulos and Bicyclus medontias, which have evolved violet/blue scales independently via natural selection. The UV reflectance peak of B. anynana brown scales shifted to violet over six generations of artificial selection (i.e., in less than 1 y) as the result of an increase in the thickness of the lower lamina in ground scales. Similar scale structures and the same mechanism for producing violet/blue structural colors were found in the other Bicyclus species. This work shows that populations harbor large amounts of standing genetic variation that can lead to rapid evolution of scales' structural color via slight modifications to the scales' physical dimensions.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Biology, Lepidoptera, Artificial selection, Charles Darwin, Butterfly, On the Origin of Species