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Male mutation rates and the cost of sex for females


ALTHOUGH we do not know why sex evolved, the twofold cost of meiosis for females provides a standard against which postulated benefits of sex can be evaluated1. The most reliable benefit is sex's ability to reduce the impact of deleterious mutations2,3. But deleterious mutations may themselves generate a large and previously overlooked female-specific cost of sex. DNA sequence comparisons have confirmed Haldane's suggestion that most mutations arise in the male germ line4,5; recent estimates of α, the ratio of male to female mutation rates, are ten, six and two in humans, primates and rodents, respectively6–8. Consequently, male gametes may give progeny more mutations than the associated sexual recombination eliminates. Here I describe computer simulations showing that the cost of male mutations can easily exceed the benefits of recombination, causing females to produce fitter progeny by parthenogenesis than by mating. The persistence of sexual reproduction by females thus becomes even more problematic.

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Redfield, R. Male mutation rates and the cost of sex for females. Nature 369, 145–147 (1994).

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