Reversing mother's curse: selection on male mitochondrial fitness effects

Evolution. 2009 Apr;63(4):1084-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00614.x. Epub 2009 Jan 14.


Many essential organelles and endosymbionts exhibit a strict matrilineal pattern of inheritance. The absence of paternal transmission of such extranuclear components is thought to preclude a response to selection on their effects on male viability and fertility. We overturn this dogma by showing that two mechanisms, inbreeding and kin selection, allow mitochondria to respond to selection on both male viability and fertility. Even modest levels of inbreeding allow such a response to selection when there are direct fitness effects of mitochondria on male fertility because inbreeding associates male fertility traits with mitochondrial matrilines. Male viability effects of mitochondria are also selectable whenever there are indirect fitness effects of males on the fitness of their sisters. When either of these effects is sufficiently strong, we show that there are conditions that allow the spread of mitochondria with direct effects that are harmful to females, contrary to standard expectation. We discuss the implications of our findings for the evolution of organelles and endosymbionts and genomic conflict.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inbreeding
  • Male
  • Mitochondria / genetics*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Reproduction / genetics
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Selection, Genetic