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J Evol Biol. 2005 Jan;18(1):27-34.

Mutation and the experimental evolution of outcrossing in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA.


An understanding of the forces that contribute to the phylogenetically widespread phenomenon of sexual reproduction has posed a longstanding problem in evolutionary biology. Mutational theories contend that sex can be maintained when the deleterious mutation rate is sufficiently high, although empirical evidence is equivocal and experimental studies are rare. To test the influence of mutation on the evolution of obligate outcrossing, I introduced a genetic polymorphism for breeding system into populations of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans with high- and low-mutation rate genetic backgrounds and tracked the change in frequency of females, hermaphrodites, and males over approximately 21 generations. Hermaphrodites invaded all populations, regardless of mutational background. However, experimental populations with elevated mutation rates experienced more outcrossing and greater retention of females. This provides experimental evidence consistent with deleterious mutational explanations for the evolution of sex in principle, but the action of other processes is required to explain the evolution of sex in entirety.

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