Are there known examples of chains of beneficial mutations?

What I mean by that is a mutation that leads to a series of mutations occurring after each other over a relatively short period of time and all of those being beneficial for the organism. And I mean also that there is some etiological impact of the prior mutations on the subsequent ones, that is any mutation in the chain will increase significantly the likelihood of occurrence of the next mutation in the chain. And if there are such chains then would those be considered as a mechanism for speeding up evolution?

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    $\begingroup$ The answer will strongly depend on how you define "relatively short" (minutes? months? millennia? generations? and if so how many?) — please clarify this in your question. ——— Note that in general this will be very difficult to know since you would need genomic sequences from many generations of organisms and I would guess from many individuals in each generation to have any hope of seeing this happening. The best candidate I know of for finding such evidence is an ongoing long-term evolution experiment in E. coli. $\endgroup$
    – tyersome
    Jun 8, 2020 at 23:47

1 Answer 1


Adaptive radiation

In evolutionary biology, adaptive radiation is a process in which organisms diversify rapidly from an ancestral species into a multitude of new forms, particularly when a change in the environment makes new resources available, creates new challenges, or opens new environmental niches.

The key-innovation that can lead a species to go through rapid adaptive evolution might well be an initial beneficial mutation. You might want to rad about these key-innovations at Salzburger et al. (2005).

As an example, much of the diversification in ciclid fishes is thought to be driven by jaw morphology driven by a few key genes (a ligand; bmp4, a receptor; bmpr1b and an antagonist; nog2; Brawand et al., 2014). While I don't know the literature well on the topic, it sounds plausible to me that a key mutation may have allowed for the diversity of jaw morphology to diversify (which lead lineages to diversify).

Note, I am aware, I focused my answer on diversification and not on single lineage adaptation per se but I do not know better examples (or a better concept) of a single mutation that could lead to a "chain of beneficial mutations".


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