May 17, 2006

Mother's mitochondrial curse

Trends Ecol Evol. 2004 May;19(5):238-44.

Mother's curse: the effect of mtDNA on individual fitness and population viability.

Gemmell NJ, Metcalf VJ, Allendorf FW.

The mitochondrial genome is considered generally to be an innocent bystander in adaptive evolution; however, there is increasing evidence that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is an important contributor to viability and fecundity. Some of this evidence is now well documented, with mtDNA mutations having been shown to play a causal role in degenerative diseases, ageing, and cancer. However, most research on mtDNA has ignored the possibility that other instances exist where mtDNA mutations could have profound fitness consequences. Recent work in humans and other species now indicates that mtDNA mutations play an important role in sperm function, male fertility, and male fitness. Ironically, deleterious mtDNA mutations that affect only males, such as those that impair sperm function, will not be subject to natural selection because mitochondria are generally maternally inherited and could reach high frequencies in populations if the mutations are not disadvantageous in females. Here, we review how such mtDNA mutations might affect the viability of natural populations. We consider factors that increase or decrease the strength of the effect of mtDNA mutations on population viability and discuss what mechanisms exist to mitigate deleterious mtDNA effects.


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