Nature Reviews Genetics 4, 359-368 (May 2003) | doi:10.1038/nrg1062

What good is genomic imprinting: the function of parent-specific gene expression

Jon F. Wilkins1,2 & David Haig3  About the authors


Parent-specific gene expression (genomic imprinting) is an evolutionary puzzle because it forgoes an important advantage of diploidy — protection against the effects of deleterious recessive mutations. Three hypotheses claim to have found a countervailing selective advantage of parent-specific expression. Imprinting is proposed to have evolved because it enhances evolvability in a changing environment, protects females against the ravages of invasive trophoblast, or because natural selection acts differently on genes of maternal and paternal origin in interactions among kin. The last hypothesis has received the most extensive theoretical development and seems the best supported by the properties of known imprinted genes. However, the hypothesis is yet to provide a compelling explanation for many examples of imprinting.

Author affiliations

  1. Society of Fellows, 7 Divinity Avenue, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.
  2. Bauer Center for Genomics Research, 7 Divinity Avenue, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.
  3. Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.

Correspondence to: Jon F. Wilkins1,2 Email:

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