Deleterious effects of recombination and possible nonrecombinatorial advantages of sex in a fungal model

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Why sexual reproduction is so prevalent in nature remains a major question in evolutionary biology. Most of the proposed advantages of sex rely on the benefits obtained from recombination. However, it is still unclear whether the conditions under which these recombinatorial benefits would be sufficient to maintain sex in the short term are met in nature. Our study addresses a largely overlooked hypothesis, proposing that sex could be maintained in the short term by advantages due to functions linked with sex, but not related to recombination. These advantages would be so essential that sex could not be lost in the short term. Here, we used the fungus Aspergillus nidulans to experimentally test predictions of this hypothesis. Specifically, we were interested in (i) the short-term deleterious effects of recombination, (ii) possible nonrecombinatorial advantages of sex particularly through the elimination of mutations and (iii) the outcrossing rate under choice conditions in a haploid fungus able to reproduce by both outcrossing and haploid selfing. Our results were consistent with our hypotheses: we found that (i) recombination can be strongly deleterious in the short term, (ii) sexual reproduction between individuals derived from the same clonal lineage provided nonrecombinatorial advantages, likely through a selection arena mechanism, and (iii) under choice conditions, outcrossing occurs in a homothallic species, although at low rates.

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