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J Theor Biol. 2002 Jun 21;216(4):387-96.

On the origin of sex as vaccination.

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  • 1Bermuda Natural History Museum, The Bermuda Aquarium, P.O. Box FL 145, Flatts FLBX, Bermuda.


In the theory of the origin of sex as vaccination, I propose that the eukaryote genome accreted from prokaryan symbiont genomes in numerous rounds of lateral gene transfer during which sex diverged from unilateral parasitic infection, as an increasingly ritualized, reciprocal vaccination against superinfection. Sex-as-syngamy (fusion sex) arose when infected proto-eukaryan hosts began swapping nuclearized genomes containing coevolved, vertically transmitted ("attenuated") symbionts that conveyed protection against horizontal superinfection by more virulent symbionts. Sex-as-meiosis (fission sex) evolved as a host strategy to uncouple (and thereby emasculate) the acquired symbiont genomes. The chimeric nature, distribution over discrete chromosomes, and mosaic composition of the eukaryan nuclear genome derive from multiple rounds of acquiring and uncoupling prokaryan genomes. Genome compatibility-based recognition of self and mates came to define sex, mate choice, and the biological species. By generating unique individuality, sex now persists as an elaborate (hence tamper-proof) periodic device for an organism to thwart both endo- and exogenous challengers, and stay ahead of an environment whose capriciousness may largely result from the success of its own forebears.

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