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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1990 May;87(9):3566-73.

Sexual reproduction as an adaptation to resist parasites (a review).

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  • 1Department of Zoology, Oxford University, United Kingdom.


Darwinian theory has yet to explain adequately the fact of sex. If males provide little or no aid to offspring, a high (up to 2-fold) extra average fitness has to emerge as a property of a sexual parentage if sex is to be stable. The advantage must presumably come from recombination but has been hard to identify. It may well lie in the necessity to recombine defenses to defeat numerous parasites. A model demonstrating this works best for contesting hosts whose defense polymorphisms are constrained to low mutation rates. A review of the literature shows that the predictions of parasite coevolution fit well with the known ecology of sex. Moreover, parasite coevolution is superior to previous models of the evolution of sex by supporting the stability of sex under the following challenging conditions: very low fecundity, realistic patterns of genotype fitness and changing environment, and frequent mutation to parthenogenesis, even while sex pays the full 2-fold cost.

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