Genetic error, sex, and diploidy

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17 Scopus citations


Mathematical models and experiments on transformation are reported testing the hypothesis that sex and diploidy evolved as a DNA repair system. The models focus on the origin of diploidy and sex by studying selection between asexual haploids, sexual haploids, and diploids. Haploid cells are efficient replicators, while diploid cells are resistance to damage. A sexual haploid may combine the advantages of both: Spending much of its life cycle in the haploid state, then temporarily fusing to become diploid, followed by splitting to the haploid state. During the diploid state DNA damage can be repaired, since there are two copies of the gene in the cell and one copy is presumed to be undamaged. Five basic rate parameters are employed: Birth and death; genomic damage (for the haploids alone); and, for the sexual cell, fusion and splitting. Parameter space bifurcation diagrams for the equilibria are drawn, and solutions of the equations are described in terms of these diagrams. Each type of cell has a region of the parameter space that it occupies exclusively (given its initial presence in the competition). The haploid wins in environments characterized by low damage. The diploid wins in environments characterized by high damage, low mortality, and abundant resources. In general, only a single type of cell occupies a given portion of the space. We find, however, that competitive coexistence of an asexual diploid and sexual haploid is possible in spite of the fact that they are competing for a single resource (nucleotide building blocks). Sex can increase from rarity if matings occur with asexual cells. Only sex can cope with both high mortality and high damage. We then turn to natural bacterial transformation as a model system for the experimental study of sex. Natural transformation in distributed widely, but apparently sparsely, in all bacterial groups. A very preliminary phy-logenetic analysis of the bacilli and related species indicates that transformation is probably not a diversifying force in bacterial evolution. However, it is difficult to be sure because of the ambiguity surrounding negative data. Experiments with the bacterium Bacillus subtilis indicate that transformation frequencies respond adatively to DNA damage if homologous donor DNA is used. Several specific hypotheses for this response are considered. Recent work in other labs on the evolution of transformation is discussed from the point of view of the hypothesis that transformation functions in a DNA repair.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)360-371
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Heredity
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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