Incompatibility systems in which individuals bearing identical alleles reject each other favor the maintenance of a diversity of alleles. Mushroom mating type loci (MAT) encode for dozens or hundreds of incompatibility alleles whose loss from the population is greatly restricted through negative frequency selection, leading to a system of alleles with highly divergent sequences. Here, we use DNA sequences of homeodomain (HD) encoding genes at the MAT locus of five closely related species of the root rot basidiomycete Heterobasidion annosum sensu lato to show that the extended coalescence time of MAT alleles greatly predates speciation in the group, contrasting loci outside of MAT that show allele divergences largely consistent with the species phylogeny with those of MAT, which show rampant trans-species polymorphism. We observe a roughly 6-fold greater genealogical depth and polymorphism of MAT compared with non-MAT that argues for the maintenance of balanced polymorphism for a minimum duration of 24 My based on a molecular-clock calibrated species phylogeny. As with other basidiomycete HD genes, balancing selection appears to be concentrated at the specificity-determining region in the N-terminus of the protein based on identification of codons under selection and the absence of recombination within the region. However, the elevated polymorphism extends into the nonspecificity determining regions as well as a neighboring non-MAT gene, the mitochondrial intermediate peptidase (MIP). In doing so, increased divergence should decrease recombination among alleles and as a by-product create incompatibilities in the functional domains not involved in allele recognition but in regulating sexual development.
Keywords: balancing selection; incompatibility proteins; mating type.