Sex: differences in mutation, recombination, selection, gene flow, and genetic drift

Evolution. 2007 Dec;61(12):2750-71. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2007.00250.x. Epub 2007 Nov 1.


In many instances, there are large sex differences in mutation rates, recombination rates, selection, rates of gene flow, and genetic drift. Mutation rates are often higher in males, a difference that has been estimated both directly and indirectly. The higher male mutation rate appears related to the larger number of cell divisions in male lineages but mutation rates also appear gene- and organism-specific. When there is recombination in only one sex, it is always the homogametic sex. When there is recombination in both sexes, females often have higher recombination but there are many exceptions. There are a number of hypotheses to explain the sex differences in recombination. Sex-specific differences in selection may result in stable polymorphisms or for sex chromosomes, faster evolutionary change. In addition, sex-dependent selection may result in antagonistic pleiotropy or sexually antagonistic genes. There are many examples of sex-specific differences in gene flow (dispersal) and a number of adaptive explanations for these differences. The overall effective population size (genetic drift) is dominated by the lower sex-specific effective population size. The mean of the mutation, recombination, and gene flow rates over the two sexes can be used in a population genetics context unless there are sex-specific differences in selection or genetic drift. Sex-specific differences in these evolutionary factors appear to be unrelated to each other. The evolutionary explanations for sex-specific differences for each factor are multifaceted and, in addition, explanations may include chance, nonadaptive differences, or mechanistic, nonevolutionary factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Gene Flow*
  • Genetic Drift*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mutation*
  • Recombination, Genetic*
  • Sex Characteristics*