Bulletin of Mathematical Biology

, Volume 79, Issue 4, pp 683–692 | Cite as

Toward a Unique Definition of the Mutation Rate

Perspectives Article


In around 1943, while writing a classic paper with Luria, Delbrück envisioned two kinds of mutation rates: One was expressed as mutations per bacterium per unit time, the other as mutations per bacterium per division cycle. Due to minor mathematical errors, the precise connection between the two concepts remained elusive for Delbrück. As a result, researchers and educators alike are still grappling with the definition of the mutation rate. Within the context of microbial mutation, the current author proposes an idealized model to bring new clarity to the distinction between the two forms of the mutation rate that Delbrück once attempted to define and characterize. The paper also critiques two incorrect estimators of mutation rates and brings to light two important yet unexplored “invariance” hypotheses about mutation rates.


Mutation rate Luria–Delbrück protocol Cell generation time 



The author expresses his gratitude to a referee for numerous thoughtful suggestions that substantially enhanced the paper’s readability.


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Copyright information

© Society for Mathematical Biology 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Epidemiology and BiostatisticsTexas A&M School of Public HealthCollege StationUSA

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