Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



PNAS | April 12, 2016 | vol. 113 | no. 15 | 3915–3917



Meiosis is a dangerous business. The two alleles in diploid organisms share an evolutionary interest in the survival and reproduction of their host individual; however, as soon as they segregate into haploid gametes, these alleles find themselves competing for transmission to the next generation (1). In males, the development of all four meiotic products into functional gametes fosters the evolution of alleles that disrupt the development or viability of gametes carrying the alternate allele. Systems that distort Mendelian segregation (hence, segregation distorters) typically comprise at least two loci: a trans-acting drive locus (such as a gene that encodes a poison) that targets alleles that are sensitive to the poison at a second, linked locus (2). A major impediment to the evolution of segregation distorters is the requirement that the poisonous allele be tightly linked to resistant alleles at the target locus; otherwise, distorters will commit suicide when paired with a sensitive allele (3). As a result, segregation distorters on autosomes are invariably associated with inversions that suppress recombination between the distorter and target loci. In contrast, heteromorphic sex chromosomes, where the Y chromosome is highly degenerated, can facilitate the evolution of segregation distorters because the X and Y frequently share little homologous sequence and do not recombine along most or all of their length. Thus, sex-chromosome segregation distorters that distort the sex ratio of the progeny of males that carry them (hence, sex-ratio distorters) are predicted to evolve frequently (4). The presence of sex-ratio distorters in populations selects for resistant Y chromosomes and autosomal suppressors that restore male fertility and a balanced sex ratio, and may lead to either balanced polymorphisms or open-ended arms races between loci that function in the male germ line (5). A recent study in PNAS has identified a gene required for sex-ratio distortion in Drosophila simulans (6), providing novel insight into the genetic and molecular mechanisms used by these selfish elements and their effects on genome evolution and species formation.

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