Long-term exhaustion of the inbreeding load in Drosophila melanogaster

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Inbreeding depression, the decline in fitness of inbred individuals, is a ubiquitous phenomenon of great relevance in evolutionary biology and in the fields of animal and plant breeding and conservation. Inbreeding depression is due to the expression of recessive deleterious alleles that are concealed in heterozygous state in noninbred individuals, the so-called inbreeding load. Genetic purging reduces inbreeding depression by removing these alleles when expressed in homozygosis due to inbreeding. It is generally thought that fast inbreeding (such as that generated by full-sib mating lines) removes only highly deleterious recessive alleles, while slow inbreeding can also remove mildly deleterious ones. However, a question remains regarding which proportion of the inbreeding load can be removed by purging under slow inbreeding in moderately large populations. We report results of two long-term slow inbreeding Drosophila experiments (125–234 generations), each using a large population and a number of derived lines with effective sizes about 1000 and 50, respectively. The inbreeding load was virtually exhausted after more than one hundred generations in large populations and between a few tens and over one hundred generations in the lines. This result is not expected from genetic drift alone, and is in agreement with the theoretical purging predictions. Computer simulations suggest that these results are consistent with a model of relatively few deleterious mutations of large homozygous effects and partially recessive gene action.