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Incipient speciation by divergent adaptation and antagonistic epistasis in yeast


Establishing the conditions that promote the evolution of reproductive isolation and speciation has long been a goal in evolutionary biology1,2,3. In ecological speciation, reproductive isolation between populations evolves as a by-product of divergent selection and the resulting environment-specific adaptations4,5,6. The leading genetic model of reproductive isolation predicts that hybrid inferiority is caused by antagonistic epistasis between incompatible alleles at interacting loci1,7. The fundamental link between divergent adaptation and reproductive isolation through genetic incompatibilities has been predicted1,4,5, but has not been directly demonstrated experimentally. Here we empirically tested key predictions of speciation theory by evolving the initial stages of speciation in experimental populations of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. After replicate populations adapted to two divergent environments, we consistently observed the evolution of two forms of postzygotic isolation in hybrids: reduced rate of mitotic reproduction and reduced efficiency of meiotic reproduction. This divergent selection resulted in greater reproductive isolation than parallel selection, as predicted by the ecological speciation theory. Our experimental system allowed controlled comparison of the relative importance of ecological and genetic isolation, and we demonstrated that hybrid inferiority can be ecological and/or genetic in basis. Overall, our results show that adaptation to divergent environments promotes the evolution of reproductive isolation through antagonistic epistasis, providing evidence of a plausible common avenue to speciation and adaptive radiation in nature.

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Figure 1: Comparisons of mitotic fitness.
Figure 2: General patterns of mitotic fitness across population classes.
Figure 3: Comparisons of meiotic efficiency.


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This work was supported by Discovery grants to J.B.A. and L.M.K., and a Postdoctoral Fellowship to J.R.D., from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Author Contributions The research was conceived and planned by all authors. C.S. and J.R.D. performed the experiments, and J.R.D. analysed the data. J.R.D, J.B.A. and L.M.K. contributed to the writing of the manuscript, which was coordinated by J.R.D.

The full microarray data set has been deposited in the Gene Expression Omnibus ( under accession series GSE6870.

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Correspondence to Jeremy R. Dettman.

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Supplementary Information

This file includes Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Material 1 (Evidence against alternative explanations for reduced meiotic efficiency of hybrids), Supplementary Material 2 (Genetic experiment to assess concomitant reductions in mitotic fitness and meiotic efficiency) Supplementary Material 3 (Microarray expression data), and Supplementary Material 4 (Validation of microarray expression data). (PDF 1199 kb)

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Dettman, J., Sirjusingh, C., Kohn, L. et al. Incipient speciation by divergent adaptation and antagonistic epistasis in yeast. Nature 447, 585–588 (2007).

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