1 Bioinformatics Research Centre (BiRC), Science and Technology, Aarhus University2 Biology Department, University of Ottawa3 Bioinformatics Research Centre (BiRC), Science and Technology, Aarhus University
Conventional wisdom holds that synonymous mutations, nucleotide changes that do not alter the encoded amino acid, have no detectable effect on phenotype or fitness. However, a growing body of evidence from both comparative and experimental studies suggests otherwise. Synonymous mutations have been shown to impact gene expression, protein folding and fitness, however, direct evidence that they can be positively selected, and so contribute to adaptation, is lacking. Here we report the recovery of two beneficial synonymous single base pair changes that arose spontaneously and independently in an experimentally evolved population of Pseudomonas fluorescens. We show experimentally that these mutations increase fitness by an amount comparable to non-synonymous mutations and that the fitness increases stem from increased gene expression. These results provide unequivocal evidence that synonymous mutations can drive adaptive evolution and suggest that this class of mutation may be underappreciated as a cause of adaptation and evolutionary dynamics.