The equivalence between weak and strong purifying selection

The equivalence between weak and strong purifying selection
Benjamin H Good, Michael M Desai
(Submitted on 16 Oct 2012)

Weak purifying selection, acting on many linked mutations, may play a major role in shaping patterns of molecular evolution in natural populations. Yet efforts to infer these effects from DNA sequence data are limited by our incomplete understanding of weak selection on local genomic scales. Here, we demonstrate a natural symmetry between weak and strong selection, in which the effects of many weakly selected mutations on patterns of molecular evolution are equivalent to a smaller number of more strongly selected mutations. By introducing a coarse-grained “effective selection coefficient,” we derive an explicit mapping between weakly selected populations and their strongly selected counterparts, which allows us to make accurate and efficient predictions across the full range of selection strengths. This suggests that an effective selection coefficient and effective mutation rate — not an effective population size — is the most accurate summary of the effects of selection over locally linked regions. Moreover, this correspondence places fundamental limits on our ability to resolve the effects of weak selection from contemporary sequence data alone.