Decay of Sexual Trait Genes in an Asexual Parasitoid Wasp

Genome Biol Evol. 2016 Dec 1;8(12):3685-3695. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evw273.


Trait loss is a widespread phenomenon with pervasive consequences for a species’ evolutionary potential. The genetic changes underlying trait loss have only been clarified in a small number of cases. None of these studies can identify whether the loss of the trait under study was a result of neutral mutation accumulation or negative selection. This distinction is relatively clear-cut in the loss of sexual traits in asexual organisms. Male-specific sexual traits are not expressed and can only decay through neutral mutations, whereas female-specific traits are expressed and subject to negative selection. We present the genome of an asexual parasitoid wasp and compare it to that of a sexual lineage of the same species. We identify a short-list of 16 genes for which the asexual lineage carries deleterious SNP or indel variants, whereas the sexual lineage does not. Using tissue-specific expression data from other insects, we show that fifteen of these are expressed in male-specific reproductive tissues. Only one deleterious variant was found that is expressed in the female-specific spermathecae, a trait that is heavily degraded and thought to be under negative selection in L. clavipes. Although the phenotypic decay of male-specific sexual traits in asexuals is generally slow compared with the decay of female-specific sexual traits, we show that male-specific traits do indeed accumulate deleterious mutations as expected by theory. Our results provide an excellent starting point for detailed study of the genomics of neutral and selected trait decay.

Keywords: Leptopilina clavipes; Wolbachia; parthenogenesis; deleterious variants; sexual trait decay.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Genes, Insect*
  • Male
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Reproduction, Asexual*
  • Wasps / genetics*
  • Wasps / physiology