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Nature. 1994 Feb 10;367(6463):554-7.

Parasitism, mutation accumulation and the maintenance of sex.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington 47405.

Erratum in

  • Nature 1994 Mar 24;368(6469):358.


Two classes of models attempt to explain why obligate partheno-genesis only rarely replaces sexual reproduction in natural populations, in spite of the apparent reproductive advantage that parthenogens gain by producing only female offspring. The mutation-accumulation models suggest that sex is adaptive because it purges the genome of harmful recurrent mutations. The ecological genetic models postulate that sex is adaptive in variable environments, particularly when the relevant variation is generated by coevolutionary interactions with parasites. Both of these models have considerable merit, but would seem to have limitations. The mutation-accumulation models require high rates of mutation; the coevolutionary models require that parasites have severe fitness effects on their hosts. In addition, parasites could select for clonal diversity and thereby erode any advantage that sex gains by producing variable progeny. Here we consider the interaction between mutation accumulation and host-parasite coevolution. The results suggest that even moderate effects by parasites combined with reasonable rates of mutation could render sex evolutionarily stable against repeated invasion by clones.

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