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Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Jan 7;274(1606):1-10.

Characteristics, causes and evolutionary consequences of male-biased mutation.

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Department of Evolutionary Biology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18D, 752 36 Uppsala, Sweden.


Mutation has traditionally been considered a random process, but this paradigm is challenged by recent evidence of divergence rate heterogeneity in different genomic regions. One facet of mutation rate variation is the propensity for genetic change to correlate with the number of germ cell divisions, reflecting the replication-dependent origin of many mutations. Haldane was the first to connect this association of replication and mutation to the difference in the number of cell divisions in oogenesis (low) and spermatogenesis (usually high), and the resulting sex difference in the rate of mutation. The concept of male-biased mutation has been thoroughly analysed in recent years using an evolutionary approach, in which sequence divergence of autosomes and/or sex chromosomes are compared to allow inference about the relative contribution of mothers and fathers in the accumulation of mutations. For instance, assuming that a neutral sequence is analysed, that rate heterogeneity owing to other factors is cancelled out by the investigation of many loci and that the effect of ancestral polymorphism is properly taken into account, the male-to-female mutation rate ratio, alpham, can be solved from the observed difference in rate of X and Y chromosome divergence. The male mutation bias is positively correlated with the relative excess of cell divisions in the male compared to the female germ line, as evidenced by a generation time effect: in mammals, alpham is estimated at approximately 4-6 in primates, approximately 3 in carnivores and approximately 2 in small rodents. Another life-history correlate is sexual selection: when there is intense sperm competition among males, increased sperm production will be associated with a larger number of mitotic cell divisions in spermatogenesis and hence an increase in alpham. Male-biased mutation has implications for important aspects of evolutionary biology such as mate choice in relation to mutation load, sexual selection and the maintenance of genetic diversity despite strong directional selection, the tendency for a disproportionate large role of the X (Z) chromosome in post-zygotic isolation, and the evolution of sex.

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