What motivates selfish genes when sex is off the table
Internal conflict takes on new meaning when it comes to genes. So-called selfish genetic elements are self-promoting, enhancing their own transmission relative to the rest of the organism's genome despite having neutral or harmful effects. Both intergenomic and intragenomic conflicts exist. The former relate to differential effects based on the carrier, such as whether they are passed to males or females. The fitness consequences can be sexually antagonistic, whereby genetic variations favourable in one sex are harmful to the other. The EU-funded No Sex No Conflict project is teasing apart inter- versus intragenomic conflict and their role in genotypic and phenotypic evolution via a study of asexual stick insect species in which sexual conflict over optimal trait values disappears. Given that genomic conflicts play an increasingly recognised role in human disease, insights could help us understand these processes better.
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