Viviparity-driven conflict: more to speciation than meets the fly

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008;1133:126-48. doi: 10.1196/annals.1438.006.


Equipped with Mendel's laws and only rudimentary knowledge of genes and genomes, the architects of the Modern Synthesis provided key insights into the dynamics of gene frequency change within populations. Extension of population genetic models to speciation identified Dobzhansky-Muller incompatibilities (negative epistatic interactions between genes from isolated populations) as the primary cause of hybrid inviability and sterility, a view consistent with empirical findings on the genetics of reproductive isolation in Drosophila. Although speciation models have become increasingly mathematically sophisticated, many remain based on an overly static concept of the genome, grounded in Mendelian genetics and devoid of potentially important biological details. A unifying theory of speciation therefore remains elusive, with debate over the relative importance of natural selection, sexual selection, sexual conflict, genetic drift, and selfish genetic elements in the evolution of reproductive isolation. Drawing on recent findings in molecular genetics and comparative genomics, we revisit, update, and extend the theory that reproductive mode plays a crucial role in shaping the speciation process. By providing a direct conduit for manipulation of the mother's physiology by genes expressed in the embryo, viviparity creates a postfertilization arena for genomic conflicts absent in species that lay eggs. In polyandrous species, viviparity-driven conflict (VDC) is likely to generate perpetual antagonistic coevolution between genes expressed during embryonic development and those involved in maternal reproductive physiology, thereby accelerating the rate at which postzygotic isolation evolves between populations. Moreover, in mammals and flowering plants, VDC has favored the evolution of genomic imprinting and a central role for epigenetic mechanisms in the regulation of antagonistic patterns of gene expression by maternally and paternally inherited genomes. VDC can account for the rapid rate at which mammals and viviparous fishes lose their ability to hybridize; the key role of the triploid endosperm in postzygotic reproductive isolation in flowering plants; and the kinds of traits, genes, and gene regulatory systems most critical to the evolution of postzygotic reproductive isolation in live-bearing species.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila / genetics*
  • Drosophila / physiology*
  • Genetic Speciation*
  • Genomic Imprinting / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mammals / embryology
  • Mammals / genetics
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Genetic
  • Sex Chromosomes / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Viviparity, Nonmammalian / genetics*
  • Viviparity, Nonmammalian / physiology