Detrimental effects of an autosomal selfish genetic element on sperm competitiveness in house mice

Sutter, AL, A. K.,  Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences,  282:1-8. 2015.

Female multiple mating (polyandry) is widespread across many animal taxa and indirect genetic benefits are a major evolutionary force favouring polyandry. An incentive for polyandry arises when multiple mating leads to sperm competition that disadvantages sperm from genetically inferior mates. A reduction in genetic quality is associated with costly selfish genetic elements (SGEs), and studies in invertebrates have shown that males bearing sex ratio distorting SGEs are worse sperm competitors than wild-type males. We used a vertebrate model species to test whether females can avoid an autosomal SGE, the t haplotype, through polyandry. The t haplotype in house mice exhibits strong drive in t heterozygous males by affecting spermatogenesis and is associated with homozygous in utero lethality. We used controlled matings to test the effect of the t haplotype on sperm competitiveness. Regardless of mating order, t heterozygous males sired only 11% of zygotes when competing against wild-type males, suggesting a very strong effect of the t haplotype on sperm quality. We provide, to our knowledge, the first substantial evidence that polyandry ameliorates the harmful effects of an autosomal SGE arising through genetic incompatibility. We discuss potential mechanisms in our study species and the broader implications for the benefits of polyandry.