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Associations between selected alleles and the genetic backgrounds on which they are found can reduce the efficacy of selection. We consider the extent to which such interference, known as the Hill-Robertson effect, acting between weakly selected alleles, can restrict molecular adaptation and affect patterns of polymorphism and divergence. In particular, we focus on synonymous-site mutations, considering the fate of novel variants in a two-locus model and the equilibrium effects of interference with multiple loci and reversible mutation. We find that weak selection Hill-Robertson (wsHR) interference can considerably reduce adaptation, e.g., codon bias, and, to a lesser extent, levels of polymorphism, particularly in regions of low recombination. Interference causes the frequency distribution of segregating sites to resemble that expected from more weakly selected mutations and also generates specific patterns of linkage disequilibrium. While the selection coefficients involved are small, the fitness consequences of wsHR interference across the genome can be considerable. We suggest that wsHR interference is an important force in the evolution of nonrecombining genomes and may explain the unexpected constancy of codon bias across species of very different census population sizes, as well as several unusual features of codon usage in Drosophila.


Journal article



Publication Date





929 - 944


Alleles, Evolution, Molecular, Gene Frequency, Genetic Variation, Linkage Disequilibrium, Models, Genetic, Mutation, Selection, Genetic