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Yeast reveals secret of ‘hitchhiker’ mutations

It takes a “group effort” of genetic mutations to give organisms the best shot at evolutionary survival, a new study suggests.

Evolution occurs when an individual experiences a spontaneous beneficial mutation in its genome that improves its ability to adapt to its environment. The common view was that a single mutation could boost the survival of an individual, which would then reproduce and pass on the mutation to its offspring.

Instead, researchers studying 1,000 generations of adaptation in 40 yeast populations have found that rather than just one mutation causing enhanced survival about five to seven mutations are required. These extra mutations are termed “hitchhikers” because they don’t appear to contribute to the enhanced fitness of the organism.

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