Editorial overview: Conflicts, conflicts everywhere

Harmit S Malik, Judith E Mank,  Current Opinion in Genetics and Development,  83. 2023.

Genetic conflicts are pervasive in biology. They arise when genes, sets of genes, or chromosomes enhance their success at significant cost to their genetic neighbors. In some cases, conflicts occur when a ‘cheater’ subverts the rules of genetic inheritance, pitting the interests of the ‘cheater’ against the rest of the genome. In other cases, genetic elements play by the rules of genetic inheritance, but benefit some members of a species at the same time that they harm others.

In this issue, we invited a group of scientists at the forefront of the study of different forms of genetic conflicts to share their expertise on some especially intriguing genetic battlegrounds, reflect on their historical underpinnings, summarize current advances, and discuss ideas that will propel the field forward in the years to come. Each of these tales of genetic conflicts is also a tale of evolutionary innovation. Some cases of conflict result from the unique opportunities created by nonfoolproof inheritance rules (e.g. the battle for transmission through gametes or the uniparental inheritance of mitochondria). In other cases, the ‘cheating’ elements (e.g. germline-restricted chromosomes (GRCs)) maintain themselves by creating opportunities to bypass rules their genetic neighbors are forced to abide by. Some conflicts thrive by imposing minimal costs on their neighbors, or even forcing a resolution of conflict so that the interests of all parties are accommodated within the genome. In contrast, others indulge in near-complete chromosomal or gametic fratricide, an observation that is difficult to reconcile without invoking genetic conflicts.

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