The evolution and maintenance of the phenomenon of postsegregational host killing or genetic addiction are paradoxical. In this phenomenon, a gene complex, once established in a genome, programs death of a host cell that has eliminated it. The intact form of the gene complex would survive in other members of the host population. It is controversial as to why these genetic elements are maintained, due to the lethal effects of host killing, or perhaps some other properties are beneficial to the host. We analyzed their population dynamics by analytical methods and computer simulations. Genetic addiction turned out to be advantageous to the gene complex in the presence of a competitor genetic element. The advantage is, however, limited in a population without spatial structure, such as that in a well-mixed liquid culture. In contrast, in a structured habitat, such as the surface of a solid medium, the addiction gene complex can increase in frequency, irrespective of its initial density. Our demonstration that genomes can evolve through acquisition of addiction genes has implications for the general question of how a genome can evolve as a community of potentially selfish genes.
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