I’m a software developer and I’m implementing something called a Genetic Algorithm. I would like some input on when during an organism’s lifespan mutations occur.

Genes mutate throughout the lifetime of an organism. When do the bulk of mutations, which would effect the offspring of an individual, occur? Do most mutations happen at conception and early adolescence, or do a significant number happen between adolescence and parenthood?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ it is not so much when as to which cells, only mutations to germ line cells get passed on the the next generation and they can happen any time. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 0:43
  • $\begingroup$ @John I suppose that it varies between the sexes (in humans at least), since males only produce sperm during puberty, whereas females produce eggs effectively from birth, right? $\endgroup$
    – user438383
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 9:13
  • $\begingroup$ Are you asking just from curiousity, or because you intend to make your implementation mimic life? If the latter, my advice is not to bother: life is not the optimal way to implement GAs. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ Well, in general, mutation happens after selection, and before fitness evaluation in a GA. I was curious if there was any biological basis for this. Seems like, based on MikeyC's answer, it does make sense to to do mutation before calculating fitness. $\endgroup$
    – Warlax56
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 20:50

1 Answer 1


I'm assuming this question is primarily interested in heritable mutations, given the evolutionary nature of the link you shared. Only mutations in germ cells are heritable, so it will vary between males and females.

Female germ cells are formed in utero. Oogenesis in humans and is pretty much finished by 20 weeks gestational age (there's some debate about this, but it seems to be the current consensus view). So any heritable mutations would need to happen during gestational period. Note that that gestational age number probably varies quite a bit for different animals, but I think it's generally completed before gestation is completed (in mammals at least).

Males produce gametes via spermatogenesis continuously throughout life. So, for modeling purposes, you could probably use the age at which they conceive (though the sperm actually take a couple of months to mature).

One thing I'm unsure about is whether or not aging in the male affects the mutation rates in sperm, but might be something for the OP to look into.


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