Sexual reproduction selects for robustness and negative epistasis in artificial gene networks

Nature. 2006 Mar 2;440(7080):87-90. doi: 10.1038/nature04488.


The mutational deterministic hypothesis for the origin and maintenance of sexual reproduction posits that sex enhances the ability of natural selection to purge deleterious mutations after recombination brings them together into single genomes. This explanation requires negative epistasis, a type of genetic interaction where mutations are more harmful in combination than expected from their separate effects. The conceptual appeal of the mutational deterministic hypothesis has been offset by our inability to identify the mechanistic and evolutionary bases of negative epistasis. Here we show that negative epistasis can evolve as a consequence of sexual reproduction itself. Using an artificial gene network model, we find that recombination between gene networks imposes selection for genetic robustness, and that negative epistasis evolves as a by-product of this selection. Our results suggest that sexual reproduction selects for conditions that favour its own maintenance, a case of evolution forging its own path.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Epistasis, Genetic*
  • Genes, Synthetic / genetics*
  • Genotype
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Reproduction / genetics*
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Sex*