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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 May 8;98(10):5677-82. Epub 2001 Apr 24.

Y chromosome polymorphism is a strong determinant of male fitness in Drosophila melanogaster.

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  • 1Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.


In many species, the Y (or W) chromosome carries relatively few functional genes. This observation motivates the null hypothesis that the Y will be a minor contributor to genetic variation for fitness. Previous data and theory supported the null hypothesis, but evidence presented here shows that the Y of Drosophila melanogaster is a major determinant of a male's total fitness, with standing genetic variation estimated to be 68% of that of an entire X/autosome genomic haplotype. Most Y-linked genes are expressed during spermatogenesis, and correspondingly, we found that the Y influences fitness primarily through its effect on a male's reproductive success (sperm competition and/or mating success) rather than his egg-to-adult viability. But the fitness of a Y highly depended on the genetic makeup of its bearer, reverting from high to low in different genetic backgrounds. This pattern leads to large epistatic (inconsistent among backgrounds) but no additive (consistent among backgrounds) Y-linked genetic variance for fitness. On a microevolutionary scale, the observed large epistatic variation on the Y substantially reduces heritable variation for fitness among males, and on a macroevolutionary scale, the Y produces strong selection for genomic rearrangements that move interacting genes onto the nonrecombining region of the Y.

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