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Evolution. 2011 Sep;65(9):2621-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01325.x. Epub 2011 May 10.

Heterozygosity and its unexpected correlations with hybrid sterility.

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Department of Biology, The University of Western Ontario, BGS 2080, London, ON, N6A 5B7, Canada.


In general, heterozygosity is considered to be advantageous, primarily because it masks the effects of deleterious recessive alleles. However, there is usually a reduction in fitness in individuals that are heterozygous due to the pairing of two species (heterospecific). Because the parental alleles arose along separate evolutionary paths, they may not function properly when brought together within an individual. The formation of these unfit interspecies hybrids is one of the mechanisms that maintains species isolation. Interestingly, it has been observed that later-generation individuals resulting from a backcross to one parent are more often sterile than those resulting from a backcross to the other parent, but the mechanism underlying this trend is unknown. Here, I show that one direction of backcross produces offspring with more heterospecific genome, and that this is correlated with the directionality seen in backcross hybrid sterility. Therefore, the directionality in sterility is likely due to the different amounts of heterospecific genome present in the two backcrosses. Surprisingly, in spite of the potential fitness consequences, I also find that interspecies laboratory backcrosses in general yield an excess of heterospecific individuals, and that this trend is consistent across multiple taxa.

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