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Mol Biol Evol. 2012 Jan;29(1):401-8. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msr237. Epub 2011 Sep 22.

Deleterious mutation accumulation in asexual Timema stick insects.

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Zoology Department, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.


Sexual reproduction is extremely widespread in spite of its presumed costs relative to asexual reproduction, indicating that it must provide significant advantages. One postulated benefit of sex and recombination is that they facilitate the purging of mildly deleterious mutations, which would accumulate in asexual lineages and contribute to their short evolutionary life span. To test this prediction, we estimated the accumulation rate of coding (nonsynonymous) mutations, which are expected to be deleterious, in parts of one mitochondrial (COI) and two nuclear (Actin and Hsp70) genes in six independently derived asexual lineages and related sexual species of Timema stick insects. We found signatures of increased coding mutation accumulation in all six asexual Timema and for each of the three analyzed genes, with 3.6- to 13.4-fold higher rates in the asexuals as compared with the sexuals. In addition, because coding mutations in the asexuals often resulted in considerable hydrophobicity changes at the concerned amino acid positions, coding mutations in the asexuals are likely associated with more strongly deleterious effects than in the sexuals. Our results demonstrate that deleterious mutation accumulation can differentially affect sexual and asexual lineages and support the idea that deleterious mutation accumulation plays an important role in limiting the long-term persistence of all-female lineages.

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