A selfish genetic element and its suppressor causes gross damage to testes in a fly

S. Lyth, A. Manser, G. Hurst, T. Price and R. Verspoor,  bioRxiv,  2023.02.06.527273. 2023.

Selfish genetic elements (SGEs), specifically X-chromosome meiotic drive (XCMD), create huge conflicts within a hosts genome and can have profound effects on fertility. Suppressors are a common evolutionary response to XCMD to negate its costs. However, whether suppressors themselves can cause negative non-target effects remains understudied. Here, we examine whether the intragenomic conflicts created by XCMD and its suppressor affects gonad morphology in Drosophila subobscura. We found significant differences in testes, seminal vesicle, and accessory gland size depending on whether a male carried a non-driving X chromosome, an XCMD, and if the XCMD was suppressed. We also found the first evidence of extreme whole-organ damage to testes that is specifically associated with a suppressor of XCMD. Unlike other studies, our evidence suggests that XCMD in D. subobscura inflicts extreme damage on male gonads. This damage is most severe if both XCMD and its suppressor are both present. While costs of suppression have importance in theoretical models, they have largely been ignored in empirical XCMD systems. Overall, this study highlights that genetic conflict, created by SGEs and their suppressors, is a potent evolutionary force that can have major impacts on gonad development and gametogenesis.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.

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