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The origin of mutant cells: mechanisms by whichSaccharomyces cerevisiae produces cells homoplasmic for new mitochondrial mutations

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Haploid yeast cells have about 50 copies of the mitochondrial genome, and a mutational event is unlikely to affect more than one of these at a time. This raises the question of how such cells, or their progeny, become fixed (homoplasmic) for the mutant alele. We have tested the roles of six hypothetical mechanisms in producing erythromycin-resistant mutant cells: (i) random partitioning of mitochondrial genomes at cell division; (ii) intracellular selection for mtDNA molecules of one genotype; (iii) intracellular random drift of mitochondrial allele frequencies; (iv) intercellular selection for cells of a particular mitochondrial genotype; (v) induction of mitochondrial gene mutations by the antibiotic used to select mutants; and (vi) reduction in the number of mitochondrial genomes per cell by the antibiotic. Our experiments indicate that intracellular selection plays the major role in producing erythromycin-resistant mutant cells in the presence of the antibiotic. In the absence of the antibiotic, the combined effects of random drift and random partitioning are most important in determining the fate of new mutations, most of which are lost rather than fixed. Our experiments provide no evidence for mutation induction or ploidy reduction by erythromycin.

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Correspondence to C. William Birky Jr..

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Backer, J.S., Birky, C.W. The origin of mutant cells: mechanisms by whichSaccharomyces cerevisiae produces cells homoplasmic for new mitochondrial mutations. Curr Genet 9, 627–640 (1985).

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Key words

  • Mitochondria
  • Mutation
  • Yeast
  • Selection
  • Random drift