Linking a mutation to survival in wild mice

Published Date: 
February 1, 2019

Barrett RDH, Laurent S, Mallarino R, Pfeifer SP, Xu CCY, Foll M, Wakamatsu K, Duke-Cohan JS, Jensen JD, Hoekstra HE

Adaptive evolution in new or changing environments can be difficult to predict because the functional connections between genotype, phenotype, and fitness are complex. Here, we make these explicit connections by combining field and laboratory experiments in wild mice. We first directly estimate natural selection on pigmentation traits and an underlying pigment locus, Agouti, by using experimental enclosures of mice on different soil colors. Next, we show how a mutation in Agouti associated with survival causes lighter coat color through changes in its protein binding properties. Together, our findings demonstrate how a sequence variant alters phenotype and then reveal the ensuing ecological consequences that drive changes in population allele frequency, thereby illuminating the process of evolution by natural selection.