The frequency of sex in fungi

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2016 Oct 19;371(1706):20150540. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0540.


Fungi are a diverse group of organisms with a huge variation in reproductive strategy. While almost all species can reproduce sexually, many reproduce asexually most of the time. When sexual reproduction does occur, large variation exists in the amount of in- and out-breeding. While budding yeast is expected to outcross only once every 10 000 generations, other fungi are obligate outcrossers with well-mixed panmictic populations. In this review, we give an overview of the costs and benefits of sexual and asexual reproduction in fungi, and the mechanisms that evolved in fungi to reduce the costs of either mode. The proximate molecular mechanisms potentiating outcrossing and meiosis appear to be present in nearly all fungi, making them of little use for predicting outcrossing rates, but also suggesting the absence of true ancient asexual lineages. We review how population genetic methods can be used to estimate the frequency of sex in fungi and provide empirical data that support a mixed mode of reproduction in many species with rare to frequent sex in between rounds of mitotic reproduction. Finally, we highlight how these estimates might be affected by the fungus-specific mechanisms that evolved to reduce the costs of sexual and asexual reproduction.This article is part of the themed issue 'Weird sex: the underappreciated diversity of sexual reproduction'.

Keywords: Ascomycota; asexual reproduction; inbreeding; linkage disequilibrium; mating systems; sex.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Fungi / genetics
  • Fungi / physiology*
  • Reproduction
  • Reproduction, Asexual
  • Sex

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.3472754