Phenotypic loss is an important evolutionary force in nature but the mechanism(s) responsible for loss remains unclear. We used both simulation and multiple-regression approaches to analyze data on the loss of sporulation, a complex bacterial developmental process, during experimental evolution of Bacillus subtilis. Neutral processes of mutational degradation alone were sufficient to explain loss-of-sporulation ability in four of five populations, while evidence that selection facilitated mutational loss was found for only one population. These results are discussed in the context of the evolution of sporulation in particular and phenotypic loss in general.
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