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Plant J. 2006 Apr;46(1):85-94.

Elimination of deleterious mutations in plastid genomes by gene conversion.

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Max-Planck-Institut für Molekulare Pflanzenphysiologie, Am Mühlenberg 1, D-14476 Potsdam-Golm, Germany.


Asexual reproduction is believed to be detrimental, mainly because of the accumulation of deleterious mutations over time, a hypothesis known as Muller's ratchet. In seed plants, most asexually reproducing genetic systems are polyploid, with apomictic species (plants forming seeds without fertilization) as well as plastids and mitochondria providing prominent examples. Whether or not polyploidy helps asexual genetic systems to escape Muller's ratchet is unknown. Gene conversion, particularly when slightly biased, represents a potential mechanism that could allow asexual genetic systems to reduce their mutation load in a genome copy number-dependent manner. However, direct experimental evidence for the operation of gene conversion between genome molecules to correct mutations is largely lacking. Here we describe an experimental system based on transgenic tobacco chloroplasts that allows us to analyze gene conversion events in higher plant plastid genomes. We provide evidence for gene conversion acting as a highly efficient mechanism by which the polyploid plastid genetic system can correct deleterious mutations and make one good genome out of two bad ones. Our finding that gene conversion can be biased may provide a molecular link between asexual reproduction, high genome copy numbers and low mutation rates.

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