Selfish DNA and breeding system in flowering plants

Burt, AT, R.,  Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences,  265:141-146. 1998.

In many species, some individuals carry one or more B chromosomes: extra, or supernumerary chromosomes not part of the normal complement. In most well-studied cases, B’s lower the fitness of their carrier and persist in populations only because of accumulation mechanisms analogous to meiotic drive. It has been suggested that such genomic parasites are expected to persist only in outcrossed sexual species, in which uninfected lines of descent can be continuously reinfected; in inbred or asexual species, all selection is between lines of descent, and the genomic parasites are either lost or must evolve into commensals or mutualists. Here we present a simple population genetic model of the effect of outcrossing rate on the frequency of B chromosomes, and find that outcrossing facilitates the spread of parasitic B’s, but inhibits the spread of mutualists. Data compiled from the literature on breeding system and B chromosomes of British plants indicate that B’s are much more likely to be reported from obligately outcrossed species than inbred species. These results support the ideas that most B chromosomes are parasitic, and that breeding systems play a central role in the biology of selfish genes.