Adaptive molecular evolution of a defence gene in sexual but not functionally asexual evening primroses

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Theory predicts that sexual reproduction provides evolutionary advantages over asexual reproduction by reducing mutational load and increasing adaptive potential. Here, we test the latter prediction in the context of plant defences against pathogens because pathogens frequently reduce plant fitness and drive the evolution of plant defences. Specifically, we ask whether sexual evening primrose plant lineages (Onagraceae) have faster rates of adaptive molecular evolution and altered gene expression of a class I chitinase, a gene implicated in defence against pathogens, than functionally asexual evening primrose lineages. We found that the ratio of amino acid to silent substitutions (K a/K s=0.19 vs. 0.11 for sexual and asexual lineages, respectively), the number of sites identified to be under positive selection (four vs. zero for sexual and asexual lineages, respectively) and the expression of chitinase were all higher in sexual than in asexual lineages. Our results are congruent with the conclusion that a loss of sexual recombination and segregation in the Onagraceae negatively affects adaptive structural and potentially regulatory evolution of a plant defence protein. © 2012 The Authors. Journal of Evolutionary Biology © 2012 European Society For Evolutionary Biology.

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Journal of Evolutionary Biology