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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Jun 25;93(13):6547-51.

Gestational drive and the green-bearded placenta.

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  • 1Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


A "green beard" refers to a gene, or group of genes, that is able to recognize itself in other individuals and direct benefits to these individuals. Green-beard effects have been dismissed as implausible by authors who have implicitly assumed sophisticated mechanisms of perception and complex behavioral responses. However, many simple mechanisms for genes to "recognize" themselves exist at the maternal-fetal interface of viviparous organisms. Homophilic cell adhesion molecules, for example, are able to interact with copies of themselves on other cells. Thus, the necessary components of a green-beard effect -- feature, recognition, and response -- can be different aspects of the phenotype of a single gene. Other green-beard effects could involve coalitions of genes at closely linked loci. In fact, any form of epistasis between a locus expressed in a mother and a closely linked locus expressed in the fetus has the property of "self-recognition." Green-beard effects have many formal similarities to systems of meiotic drive and, like them, can be a source of intragenomic conflict.

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