Sperm competition suppresses gene drive among experimentally evolving populations of house mice

Manser, AL, A. K.; Simmons, L. W.; Firman, R. C.,  Molecular Ecology,  26:5784-5792. 2017.

Drive genes are genetic elements that manipulate the 50% ratio of Mendelian inheritance in their own favour, allowing them to rapidly propagate through populations. The action of drive genes is often hidden, making detection and identification inherently difficult. Yet drive genes can have profound evolutionary consequences for the populations that harbour them: most known drivers are detrimental to organismal gamete development, reproduction and survival. In this study, we identified the presence of a well-known drive gene called t haplotype post hoc in eight replicate selection lines of house mice that had been evolving under enforced monandry or polyandry for 20 generations. Previous work on these selection lines reported an increase in sperm competitive ability in males evolving under polyandry. Here, we show that this evolutionary response can be partly attributed to gene drive. We demonstrate that drive-carrying males are substantially compromised in their sperm competitive ability. As a consequence, we found that t frequencies declined significantly in the polyandrous lines while remaining at stable, high levels in the monandrous lines. For the first time in a vertebrate, we thus provide direct experimental evidence that the mating system of a species can have important repercussions on the spread of drive genes over evolutionary relevant timescales. Moreover, our work highlights how the covert action of drive genes can have major, potentially unintended impact on our study systems.