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Theory predicts that sex can drive the evolution of conflict within the cell. During asexual reproduction, genetic material within the cell is inherited as a single unit, selecting for cooperation both within the genome as well as between the extra-genomic elements within the cell (e.g. plasmids and endosymbionts). Under sexual reproduction, this unity is broken down as parental genomes are distributed between meiotic progeny. Genetic elements able to transmit to more than 50% of meiotic progeny have a transmission advantage over the rest of the genome and are able to spread, even where they reduce the fitness of the individual as a whole. Sexual reproduction is therefore expected to drive the evolution of selfish genetic elements (SGEs). Here, we directly test this hypothesis by studying the evolution of two independent SGEs, the 2-μm plasmid and selfish mitochondria, in populations of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Following 22 rounds of sexual reproduction, 2-μm copy number increased by approximately 13.2 (±5.6) copies per cell, whereas in asexual populations copy number decreased by approximately 5.1 (±1.5) copies per cell. Given that the burden imposed by this parasite increases with copy number, these results support the idea that sex drives the evolution of increased SGE virulence. Moreover, we found that mitochondria that are respiratory-deficient rapidly invaded sexual but not asexual populations, demonstrating that frequent outcrossed sex can drive the de novo evolution of genetic parasites. Our study highlights the genomic perils of sex and suggests that SGEs may play a key role in driving major evolutionary transitions, such as uniparental inheritance.

Original publication




Journal article


J Evol Biol

Publication Date





1757 - 1763


2-μm plasmid, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, experimental evolution, intragenomic conflict, mitochondria, sexual reproduction, Analysis of Variance, Biological Evolution, DNA Primers, Meiosis, Mitochondria, Models, Genetic, Plasmids, Polymerase Chain Reaction, Reproduction, Reproduction, Asexual, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Selection, Genetic, Sex