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Bioessays. 2003 Jun;25(6):533-7.

Liberating genetic variance through sex.

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Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4 Canada.


Genetic variation in fitness is the fundamental prerequisite for adaptive evolutionary change. If there is no variation in survival and reproduction or if this variation has no genetic basis, then the composition of a population will not evolve over time. Consequently, the factors influencing genetic variation in fitness have received close attention from evolutionary biologists. One key factor is the mode of reproduction. Indeed, it has long been thought that sex enhances fitness variation and that this explains the ubiquity of sexual reproduction among eukaryotes. Nevertheless, theoretical studies have demonstrated that sex need not always increase genetic variation in fitness. In particular, if fitness interactions among beneficial alleles (epistasis) are positive, sex can reduce genetic variance in fitness. Empirical data have been sorely needed to settle the issue of whether sex does enhance fitness variation. A recent flurry of studies[1-4] has demonstrated that sex and recombination do dramatically increase genetic variation in fitness and consequently the rate of adaptive evolution. Interpreted in light of evolutionary theory, these studies rule out positive in these experiments epistasis as a major source of genetic associations. Further studies are needed, however, to tease apart other possible sources.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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