GC-biased gene conversion (gBGC) is a process associated with recombination that favors the transmission of GC alleles over AT alleles during meiosis. gBGC plays a major role in genome evolution in many eukaryotes. However, the molecular mechanisms of gBGC are still unknown. Different steps of the recombination process could potentially cause gBGC: the formation of double-strand breaks (DSBs), the invasion of the homologous or sister chromatid, and the repair of mismatches in heteroduplexes. To investigate these models, we analyzed a genome-wide data set of crossovers (COs) and noncrossovers (NCOs) in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We demonstrate that the overtransmission of GC alleles is specific to COs and that it occurs among conversion tracts in which all alleles are converted from the same donor haplotype. Thus, gBGC results from a process that leads to long-patch repair. We show that gBGC is associated with longer tracts and that it is driven by the nature (GC or AT) of the alleles located at the extremities of the tract. These observations invalidate the hypotheses that gBGC is due to the base excision repair machinery or to a bias in DSB formation and suggest that in S. cerevisiae, gBGC is caused by the mismatch repair (MMR) system. We propose that the presence of nicks on both DNA strands during CO resolution could be the cause of the bias in MMR activity. Our observations are consistent with the hypothesis that gBGC is a nonadaptive consequence of a selective pressure to limit the mutation rate in mitotic cells.
Keywords: biased gene conversion; crossover; meiotic drive; recombination.