Empirical evidence for son-killing X chromosomes and the operation of SA-zygotic drive

PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e23508. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023508. Epub 2011 Aug 17.


Background: Diploid organisms have two copies of all genes, but only one is carried by each haploid gamete and diploid offspring. This causes a fundamental genetic conflict over transmission rate between alternative alleles. Single genes, or gene clusters, only rarely code for the complex phenotypes needed to give them a transmission advantage (drive phenotype). However, all genes on a male's X and Y chromosomes co-segregate, allowing different sex-linked genes to code for different parts of the drive phenotype. Correspondingly, the well-characterized phenomenon of male gametic drive, occurring during haploid gametogenesis, is especially common on sex chromosomes. The new theory of sexually antagonistic zygotic drive of the sex chromosomes (SA-zygotic drive) extends the logic of gametic drive into the diploid phase of the lifecycle, whenever there is competition among siblings or harmful sib-sib mating. The X and Y are predicted to gain a transmission advantage by harming offspring of the sex that does not carry them.

Results: Here we analyzed a mutant X-chromosome in Drosophila simulans that produced an excess of daughters when transmitted from males. We developed a series of tests to differentiate between gametic and SA-zygotic drive, and provide multiple lines of evidence that SA-zygotic drive is responsible for the sex ratio bias. Driving sires produce about 50% more surviving daughters than sons.

Conclusion: Sex-ratio distortion due to genetic conflict has evolved via gametic drive and maternally transmitted endosymbionts. Our data indicate that sex chromosomes can also drive by harming the non-carrier sex of offspring.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Diploidy
  • Female
  • Gametogenesis / genetics
  • Genes, Insect / genetics
  • Haploidy
  • Inheritance Patterns
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sex Factors
  • Sex Ratio
  • X Chromosome / genetics*
  • Y Chromosome / genetics*
  • Zygote / metabolism*