Beyond the “selfish mitochondrion” theory of uniparental inheritance


“Selfish” gene theories have offered invaluable insight into eukaryotic genome evolution, but they can also be misleading. The “selfish mitochondrion” hypothesis, developed in the 90s explained uniparental organelle inheritance as a mechanism of conflict resolution, improving cooperation between genetically distinct compartments of the cell. But modern population genetic models provided a more general explanation for uniparental inheritance based on mutational variance redistribution, modulating the efficiency of both purifying and adaptive selection. Nevertheless, “selfish” conflict theories still dominate the literature. While these hypotheses are rich in metaphor and highly intuitive, selective focus on only one type of mitochondrial mutation limits the generality of our understanding and hinders progress in mito-nuclear evolution theory. Recognizing that uniparental inheritance may have evolved – and is maintained across the eukaryotic tree of life – because of its influence on mutational variance and improved selection will only increase the generality of our evolutionary reasoning, retaining “selfish” conflict explanations as a special case of a much broader theory.

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Arunas Radzvilavicius
University of Sydney


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