Interference limits resolution of selection pressures from linked neutral diversity
Benjamin H. Good, Aleksandra M. Walczak, Richard A. Neher, Michael M. Desai
(Submitted on 5 Jun 2013)
Pervasive natural selection can strongly influence observed patterns of genetic variation, but these effects remain poorly understood when multiple selected variants segregate in nearby regions of the genome. Classical population genetics fails to account for interference between linked mutations, which grows increasingly severe as the density of selected polymorphisms increases. Here, we describe a simple limit that emerges when interference is common, in which the fitness effects of individual mutations play a relatively minor role. Instead, molecular evolution is determined by the variance in fitness within the population, defined over an effectively asexual segment of the genome (a “linkage block”). We exploit this insensitivity in a new “coarse-grained” coalescent framework, which approximates the effects of many weakly selected mutations with a smaller number of strongly selected mutations with the same variance in fitness. This approximation generates accurate and efficient predictions for the genetic diversity that cannot be summarized by a simple reduction in effective population size. However, these results suggest a fundamental limit on our ability to resolve individual selection pressures from contemporary sequence data alone, since a wide range of parameters yield nearly identical patterns of sequence variability.