Proliferation and dissemination of killer meiotic drive loci

E. C. Lai and A. A. Vogan,  Current Opinion in Genetics and Development,  82:102100. 2023.

Killer meiotic drive elements are selfish genetic entities that manipulate the sexual cycle to promote their own inheritance via destructive means. Two broad classes are sperm killers, typical of animals and plants, and spore killers, which are present in ascomycete fungi. Killer meiotic drive systems operate via toxins that destroy or disable meiotic products bearing the alternative allele. To avoid suicidal autotargeting, cells that bear these selfish elements must either lack the toxin target, or express an antidote. Historically, these systems were presumed to require large nonrecombining haplotypes to link multiple functional interacting loci. However, recent advances on fungal spore killers reveal that numerous systems are enacted by single genes, and similar molecular genetic studies in Drosophila pinpoint individual loci that distort gamete sex. Notably, many meiotic drivers duplicate readily, forming gene families that can have complex interactions within and between species, and providing substrates for their rapid functional diversification. Here, we summarize the known families of meiotic drivers in fungi and fruit flies, and highlight shared principles about their evolution and proliferation that promote the spread of these noxious genes.

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