It is now clear that the genetic basis of adaptation does not resemble that assumed by the infinitesimal model. Instead, adaptation often involves a modest number of factors of large effect and a greater number of factors of smaller effect. After reviewing relevant experimental studies, I consider recent theoretical attempts to predict the genetic architecture of adaptation from first principles. In particular, I review the history of work on Fisher's geometric model of adaptation, including recent studies which suggest that adaptation should be characterized by exponential distributions of gene effects. I also present the results of new simulation studies that test the robustness of this finding. I explore the effects of changes in the distribution of mutational effects (absolute versus relative) as well as in the nature of the character studied (total phenotypic effect versus single characters). The results show that adaptation towards a fixed optimum is generally characterized by an exponential effects trend.
The situation to which these studies point is not one of a large number of genes all with more or less equal effect. It seems, rather, that a small number of genes with large effects are responsible for most of the response, the remainder of the response being due to a larger number of loci with small effects.
D. S. Falconer (1981)
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