Mutations and quantitative genetic variation: lessons from Drosophila
A central issue in evolutionary quantitative genetics is to understand how genetic variation for quantitative traits is maintained in natural populations. Estimates of genetic variation and of genetic correlations and pleiotropy among multiple traits, inbreeding depression, mutation rates for fitness and quantitative traits and of the strength and nature of selection are all required to evaluate theoretical models of the maintenance of genetic variation. Studies in Drosophila melanogaster have shown that a substantial fraction of segregating variation for fitness-related traits in Drosophila is due to rare deleterious alleles maintained by mutation–selection balance, with a smaller but significant fraction attributable to intermediate frequency alleles maintained by alleles with antagonistic pleiotropic effects, and late-age-specific effects. However, the nature of segregating variation for traits under stabilizing selection is less clear and requires more detailed knowledge of the loci, mutation rates, allelic effects and frequencies of molecular polymorphisms affecting variation in suites of pleiotropically connected traits. Recent studies in D. melanogaster have revealed unexpectedly complex genetic architectures of many quantitative traits, with large numbers of pleiotropic genes and alleles with sex-, environment- and genetic background-specific effects. Future genome wide association analyses of many quantitative traits on a common panel of fully sequenced Drosophila strains will provide much needed empirical data on the molecular genetic basis of quantitative traits.