Hitchhiking to Speciation

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The modern evolutionary synthesis codified the idea that species exist as distinct entities because intrinsic reproductive barriers prevent them from merging together. Understanding the origin of species therefore requires understanding the evolution and genetics of reproductive barriers between species. In most cases, speciation is an accident that happens as different populations adapt to different environments and, incidentally, come to differ in ways that render them reproductively incompatible. As with other reproductive barriers, the evolution and genetics of interspecific hybrid sterility and lethality were once also thought to evolve as pleiotripic side effects of adaptation. Recent work on the molecular genetics of speciation has raised an altogether different possibility-the genes that cause hybrid sterility and lethality often come to differ between species not because of adaptation to the external ecological environment but because of internal evolutionary arms races between selfish genetic elements and the genes of the host genome. Arguably one of the best examples supporting a role of ecological adaptation comes from a population of yellow monkey flowers, Mimulus guttatus, in Copperopolis, California, which recently evolved tolerance to soil contaminants from copper mines and simultaneously, as an incidental by-product, hybrid lethality in crosses with some off-mine populations. However, in new work, Wright and colleagues show that hybrid lethality is not a pleiotropic consequence of copper tolerance. Rather, the genetic factor causing hybrid lethality is tightly linked to copper tolerance and spread to fixation in Copperopolis by genetic hitchhiking.




Presgraves, D. C. (2013). Hitchhiking to Speciation. PLoS Biology, 11(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001498

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