Rare gene capture in predominantly androgenetic species Academic Article uri icon


  • The long-term persistence of completely asexual species is unexpected. Although asexuality has short-term evolutionary advantages, a lack of genetic recombination leads to the accumulation over time of deleterious mutations. The loss of individual fitness as a result of accumulated deleterious mutations is expected to lead to reduced population fitness and possible lineage extinction. Persistent lineages of asexual, all-female clones (parthenogenetic and gynogenetic species) avoid the negative effects of asexual reproduction through the production of rare males, or otherwise exhibit some degree of genetic recombination. Another form of asexuality, known as androgenesis, results in offspring that are clones of the male parent. Several species of the Asian clam genus Corbicula reproduce via androgenesis. We compared gene trees of mitochondrial and nuclear loci from multiple sexual and androgenetic species across the global distribution of Corbicula to test the hypothesis of long-term clonality of the androgenetic species. Our results indicate that low levels of genetic capture of maternal nuclear DNA from other species occur within otherwise androgenetic lineages of Corbicula. The rare capture of genetic material from other species may allow androgenetic lineages of Corbicula to mitigate the effects of deleterious mutation accumulation and increase potentially adaptive variation. Models comparing the relative advantages and disadvantages of sexual and asexual reproduction should consider the possibility of rare genetic recombination, because such events seem to be nearly ubiquitous among otherwise asexual species.

publication date

  • 2011