Arjan de Visser


J. Arjan G. M. de Visser


Telephone: (+) 31 317 483144

Fax:(+) 31 317 483146


  • experimental evolution using microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) and enzymes, see Darwinjaar (in Dutch)
  • epistasis and fitness landscapes
  • mutation rates and the evolution of sex
  • spatial structure and interference competition
  • clonal interference and the evolutionary mechanics of adaptation

Research interests:

We use microbes (both prokaryote and eukaryote) and the enzyme TEM-1 beta-lactamase in laboratory evolution experiments to study the genetics and ecology of adaptation.  The specific topics we address include the causes and consequences of differences in evolvability, the structure of real fitness landscapes, the role of sex and the mutation rate, interference competition via anticompetitor toxins, and the evolutionary role of environmental structure.  Microbes offer numerous advantages for such studies, such as rapid generations, large populations, and ease of experimental control.  But even microbes have limitations, which can be overcome by using the approach of in vitro evolution of a single enzyme.  The enzyme we use is TEM-1 beta-lactamase, which confers resistance to certain antibiotics, and which facilitates experimental control of key variables such as recombination, mutation rate and strength of selection, and hence the exploration of parts of sequence space never explored before by nature.


  • Evolution and Systematics, GEN 11306
  • Genetic Analysis, Tools and Concepts, GEN 30306
  • Seminal Papers in Evolutionary Biology, GEN 51306
  • Supervision of thesis topics involving experimental microbial and in vitro evolution to address fundamental and applied problems, including the molecular causes and phenotypic effects of random mutations, the causes and consequences of gene interactions (epistasis) and genetic robustness, the evolution of sex and recombination, the role of spatial structure in adaptive evolution, and the repeatability of evolution.

Thesis topics

Selected publications:

Szendro, I.G., M.F. Schenk, J. Franke, J. Krug and J.A.G.M. de Visser. 2012. Quantitative analyses of empirical fitness landscapes. J. Stat., in press.

Gifford, D.R., J.A.G.M. de Visser and L.M. Wahl. 2012. Model and test in a fungus of the probability that beneficial mutations survive drift. Biol. Lett., in press.

Schenk, M.F., I.G. Szendro, J. Krug and J.A.G.M. de Visser. 2012. Quantifying the adaptive potential of an antibiotic resistance enzyme. PLoS Genet. 8: e1002783.

J.A.G.M. de Visser, T.F. Cooper and S.F. Elena. 2011. The causes of epistasis. Proc. R. Soc. B 278: 3617-3624.

J. Franke, A. Klözer, J.A.G.M. de Visser and J. Krug. 2011. Evolutionary accessibility of mutational pathways. PLoS Comp. Biol. 7: e1002134.

Salverda, M.L.M., E. Dellus, F.A. Gorter, A.J.M. Debets, J. van der Oost, R.F. Hoekstra, D.S. Tawfik and J.A.G.M. de Visser. 2011. Initial mutations direct alternative pathways of protein evolution. PLoS Genet. 7: e1001321.

J.A.G.M. de Visser, S.-C. Park and J. Krug. 2009. Exploring the effect of sex on empirical fitness landscapes. Am. Nat. 174: S15-S30.

Rozen, D.E., M.G.L.M. Habets, A. Handel and J.A.G.M. de Visser. 2008. Heterogeneous adaptive trajectories of small populations on complex fitness landscapes. PLoS One, 3: e1715.

Wloch-Salamon, D.M., D. Gerla, R.F. Hoekstra and J.A.G.M. de Visser. 2008. Effect of dispersal and nutrient availability on the competitive ability of toxin-producing yeast. Proc. R. Soc. London B, 275: 535-541.

De Visser J.A.G.M. and S.F. Elena. 2007. The evolution of sex: empirical insights into the roles of epistasis and drift. Nat. Rev. Genet. 8: 139-149.

Habets, M.G.J.L., D.E. Rozen, R.F. Hoekstra and J.A.G.M. de Visser. 2006. The effect of population structure on the adaptive radiation of microbial populations evolving in spatially structured environments. Ecol. Lett. 9: 1041-1048.

De Visser, J.A.G.M. and D.E. Rozen. 2006. Clonal interference and the periodic selection of new beneficial mutations in Escherichia coli. Genetics 172: 2093-2100.

All publications by Arjan de Visser at the Laboratory of Genetics



  • 1981 - 1989    MSc Biology, Utrecht and Nijmegen University
  • 1991 - 1996    PhD Genetics, Wageningen University and University of Amsterdam


  • 1989 - 1991    Civil service, Free University Amsterdam
  • 1995              University teacher, Wageningen University
  • 1996 - 1998    Postdoctoral fellow (NWO-Talent fellowship), Center for Microbial Ecology, Michigan State University
  • 1998 - 2001    Postdoctoral fellow (NWO-Puls fellowship), Laboratory of Microbiology, Wageningen University
  • 2001 - 2008    Assistant professor (NWO-VIDI grant), Laboratory of Genetics, Wageningen University
  • 2008 - present    Associate professor, Laboratory of Genetics, Wageningen University