Whole-Genome Hitchhiking on an Organelle Mutation

Pádraic J. Flood*, Joost van Heerwaarden, Frank Becker, C.B. de Snoo, Jeremy Harbinson, Mark G.M. Aarts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Strong selection on a beneficial mutation can cause a selective sweep, which fixes the mutation in the population and reduces the genetic variation in the region flanking the mutation [1-3]. These flanking regions have increased in frequency due to their physical association with the selected loci, a phenomenon called "genetic hitchhiking" [4]. Theoretically, selection could extend the hitchhiking to unlinked parts of the genome, to the point that selection on organelles affects nuclear genome diversity. Such indirect selective sweeps have never been observed in nature. Here we show that strong selection on a chloroplast gene in the wild plant species Arabidopsis thaliana has caused widespread and lasting hitchhiking of the whole nuclear genome. The selected allele spread more than 400 km along the British railway network, reshaping the genetic composition of local populations. This demonstrates that selection on organelle genomes can significantly reduce nuclear genetic diversity in natural populations. We expect that organelle-mediated genetic draft is a more common occurrence than previously realized and needs to be considered when studying genome evolution. Flood et al. discover that strong selection on a chloroplast gene has extended to the nuclear genome, which has hitched a ride along with the selected chloroplast. This is the first description of organelle-mediated genetic draft and shows that selection on organelles can directly impact nuclear genetic diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number26
Pages (from-to)1306-1311
JournalCurrent Biology
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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