Molecular Mechanisms and Evolutionary Consequences of Spore Killers in Ascomycetes

S. Zanders and H. Johannesson,  Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews,  2021.

In this review, we examine the fungal spore killers. These are meiotic drive elements that cheat during sexual reproduction to increase their transmission into the next generation. Spore killing has been detected in a number of ascomycete genera, including Podospora, Neurospora, Schizosaccharomyces, Bipolaris, and Fusarium. There have been major recent advances in spore killer research that have increased our understanding of the molecular identity, function, and evolutionary history of the known killers. The spore killers vary in the mechanism by which they kill and are divided into killer-target and poison-antidote drivers. In killer-target systems, the drive locus encodes an element that can be described as a killer, while the target is an allele found tightly linked to the drive locus but on the nondriving haplotype. The poison-antidote drive systems encode both a poison and an antidote element within the drive locus. The key to drive in this system is the restricted distribution of the antidote: only the spores that inherit the drive locus receive the antidote and are rescued from the toxicity of the poison. Spore killers also vary in their genome architecture and can consist of a single gene or multiple linked genes. Due to their ability to distort meiosis, spore killers gain a selective advantage at the gene level that allows them to increase in frequency in a population over time, even if they reduce host fitness, and they may have significant impact on genome architecture and macroevolutionary processes such as speciation.

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