A glass transition in population genetics: Emergence of clones in populations

November 18, 2016

Marija Vucelja, Department of Physics, University of Virginia

The fields of evolution and population genetics are undergoing a renaissance, due to the abundance of sequencing data. On the other hand, the existing theories are often unable to explain the experimental findings. It is not clear what sets the time scales of evolution, whether for antibiotic resistance, an emergence of new animal species, or the diversification of life. The emerging picture of genetic evolution is that of a strongly interacting stochastic system with large numbers of components far from equilibrium. In this talk, I plan to focus on the clone competition and discuss the diversity of a random population that undergoes selection and recombination (sexual reproduction). Recombination reshuffles genetic material while selection amplifies the fittest genotypes. If recombination is more rapid than selection, a population consists of a diverse mixture of many genotypes, as is observed in many populations. In the opposite regime, selection can amplify individual genotypes into large clones, and the population reaches the so-called “clonal condensation”. I hope to convince you that our work provides a qualitative explanation of clonal condensation. I will point out the similarity between clonal condensation and the freezing transition in the Random Energy Model of spin glasses. I will conclude with a summary of our present understanding of the clonal condensation phenomena and describe future directions and connections to statistical physics.