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Genetics. 2007 Jul;176(3):1663-78. Epub 2007 May 4.

Genetic load in sexual and asexual diploids: segregation, dominance and genetic drift.

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University of Edinburgh, Institute of Evolutionary Biology, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, United Kingdom.


In diploid organisms, sexual reproduction rearranges allelic combinations between loci (recombination) as well as within loci (segregation). Several studies have analyzed the effect of segregation on the genetic load due to recurrent deleterious mutations, but considered infinite populations, thus neglecting the effects of genetic drift. Here, we use single-locus models to explore the combined effects of segregation, selection, and drift. We find that, for partly recessive deleterious alleles, segregation affects both the deterministic component of the change in allele frequencies and the stochastic component due to drift. As a result, we find that the mutation load may be far greater in asexuals than in sexuals in finite and/or subdivided populations. In finite populations, this effect arises primarily because, in the absence of segregation, heterozygotes may reach high frequencies due to drift, while homozygotes are still efficiently selected against; this is not possible with segregation, as matings between heterozygotes constantly produce new homozygotes. If deleterious alleles are partly, but not fully recessive, this causes an excess load in asexuals at intermediate population sizes. In subdivided populations without extinction, drift mostly occurs locally, which reduces the efficiency of selection in both sexuals and asexuals, but does not lead to global fixation. Yet, local drift is stronger in asexuals than in sexuals, leading to a higher mutation load in asexuals. In metapopulations with turnover, global drift becomes again important, leading to similar results as in finite, unstructured populations. Overall, the mutation load that arises through the absence of segregation in asexuals may greatly exceed previous predictions that ignored genetic drift.

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