Evolutionary dynamics of a selfishly spreading gene that stimulates sexual reproduction in a partially sexual population


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Abstract

The ability of selfishly spreading DNA sequences to invade host populations is intimately bound up with sex. In the absence of sexual reproduction, an element that lowers the fitness of its host and which is initially found in only some of the population will inevitably be lost by natural selection. This will occur even if the element can spread selfishly in the genomes of those individuals which initially possessed it. Here, we create a model in which such a gene is introduced into a population in which individuals sometimes reproduce sexually and sometimes asexually. The element can raise the level of sexuality in its bearers. There is selection against those individuals with the gene (i.e. it is selfish), and a further selective cost to sexual reproduction. The dynamics of the model that arises from these simple assumptions are remarkably complex, with fixation or loss of the selfish gene, unstable and stable equilibria, and effective neutrality all being possible dependent on the parameter values. A selfish gene that increases the level of sexuality of its bearers will tend to have a higher likelihood of invading a host population, and faster spread, but a lower likelihood of spreading to fixation, than an equivalent gene with no effect on sex.

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