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Genetics. 2007 Jan;175(1):245-54. Epub 2006 Dec 6.

The impact of male-killing bacteria on host evolutionary processes.

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Department of Biology, University College London, London NW1 2HE, United Kingdom.


Male-killing bacteria are maternally inherited endosymbionts that selectively kill male offspring of their arthropod hosts. Using both analytical techniques and computer simulations, we studied the impact of these bacteria on the population genetics of their hosts. In particular, we derived and corroborated formulas for the fixation probability of mutant alleles, mean times to fixation and fixation or extinction, and heterozygosity for varying male-killer prevalence. Our results demonstrate that infections with male-killing bacteria impede the spread of beneficial alleles, facilitate the spread of deleterious alleles, and reduce genetic variation. The reason for this lies in the strongly reduced fitness of infected females combined with no or very limited gene flow from infected females to uninfected individuals. These two properties of male-killer-infected populations reduce the population size relevant for the initial emergence and spread of mutations. In contrast, use of Wright's equation relating sex ratio to effective population size produces misleading predictions. We discuss the relationship to the similar effect of background selection, the impact of other sex-ratio-distorting endosymbionts, and how our results affect the interpretation of empirical data on genetic variation in male-killer-infected populations.

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