Carrying a selfish genetic element predicts increased migration propensity in free-living wild house mice

Runge, J-NL, Anna K.,  Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences,  285:20181333. 2018.

Life is built on cooperation between genes, which makes it vulnerable to parasitism. Selfish genetic elements that exploit this cooperation can achieve large fitness gains by increasing their transmission relative to the rest of the genome. This leads to counter-adaptations that generate unique selection pressures on the selfish genetic element. This arms race is similar to host–parasite coevolution, as some multi-host parasites alter the host’s behaviour to increase the chance of transmission to the next host. Here, we ask if, similarly to these parasites, a selfish genetic element in house mice, the t haplotype, also manipulates host behaviour, specifically the host’s migration propensity. Variants of the t that manipulate migration propensity could increase in fitness in a meta-population. We show that juvenile mice carrying the t haplotype were more likely to emigrate from and were more often found as migrants within a long-term free-living house mouse population. This result may have applied relevance as the t has been proposed as a basis for artificial gene drive systems for use in population control.