Outcrossing and the maintenance of males within C. elegans populations.
ABSTRACT Caenorhabditis elegans is an androdioecious nematode with both hermaphrodites and males. Although males can potentially play an important role in avoiding inbreeding and facilitating adaptation, their existence is evolutionarily problematic because they do not directly generate offspring in the way that hermaphrodites do. This review explores how genetic, population genomic, and experimental evolution approaches are being used to address the role of males and outcrossing within C. elegans. Although theory suggests that inbreeding depression and male mating ability should be the primary determinants of male frequency, this has yet to be convincingly confirmed experimentally. Genomic analysis of natural populations finds that outcrossing occurs at low, but not negligible levels, and that observed patterns of linkage disequilibrium consistent with strong selfing may instead be generated by natural selection against outcrossed progeny. Recent experimental evolution studies suggest that males can be maintained at fairly high levels if populations are initiated with sufficient genetic variation and/or subjected to strong natural selection via a change in the environment. For example, as reported here, populations adapting to novel laboratory rearing and temperature regimes maintain males at frequencies from 5% to 40%. Laboratory and field results still await full reconciliation, which may be facilitated by identifying the loci underlying among-strain differences in mating system dynamics.
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ABSTRACT: Caenorhabditis elegans can reproduce exclusively by self-fertilization. Yet, males can be maintained in laboratory populations, a phenomenon that continues to puzzle biologists. In this study we evaluated the role of males in facilitating adaptation to novel environments. For this, we contrasted the evolution of a fitness component exclusive to outcrossing in experimental populations of different mating systems. We introgressed a modifier of outcrossing into a hybrid population derived from several wild isolates to transform the wild-type androdioecious mating system into a dioecious mating system. By genotyping 375 single-nucleotide polymorphisms we show that the two populations had similar standing genetic diversity available for adaptation, despite the occurrence of selection during their derivation. We then performed replicated experimental evolution under the two mating systems from starting conditions of either high or low levels of diversity, under defined environmental conditions of discrete non-overlapping generations, constant density at high population sizes (N = 10(4)), no obvious spatial structure and abundant food resources. During 100 generations measurements of sex ratios and male competitive performance showed: 1) adaptation to the novel environment; 2) directional selection on male frequency under androdioecy; 3) optimal outcrossing rates of 0.5 under androdioecy; 4) the existence of initial inbreeding depression; and finally 5) that the strength of directional selection on male competitive performance does not depend on male frequencies. Taken together, these results suggest that androdioecious males are maintained at intermediate frequencies because outcrossing is adaptive.PLoS ONE 01/2012; 7(4):e35811. · 4.09 Impact Factor
Article: Natural variation in life history and aging phenotypes is associated with mitochondrial DNA deletion frequency in Caenorhabditis briggsae.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Mutations that impair mitochondrial functioning are associated with a variety of metabolic and age-related disorders. A barrier to rigorous tests of the role of mitochondrial dysfunction in aging processes has been the lack of model systems with relevant, naturally occurring mitochondrial genetic variation. Toward the goal of developing such a model system, we studied natural variation in life history, metabolic, and aging phenotypes as it relates to levels of a naturally-occurring heteroplasmic mitochondrial ND5 deletion recently discovered to segregate among wild populations of the soil nematode, Caenorhabditis briggsae. The normal product of ND5 is a central component of the mitochondrial electron transport chain and integral to cellular energy metabolism. We quantified significant variation among C. briggsae isolates for all phenotypes measured, only some of which was statistically associated with isolate-specific ND5 deletion frequency. We found that fecundity-related traits and pharyngeal pumping rate were strongly inversely related to ND5 deletion level and that C. briggsae isolates with high ND5 deletion levels experienced a tradeoff between early fecundity and lifespan. Conversely, oxidative stress resistance was only weakly associated with ND5 deletion level while ATP content was unrelated to deletion level. Finally, mean levels of reactive oxygen species measured in vivo showed a significant non-linear relationship with ND5 deletion level, a pattern that may be driven by among-isolate variation in antioxidant or other compensatory mechanisms. Our findings suggest that the ND5 deletion may adversely affect fitness and mitochondrial functioning while promoting aging in natural populations, and help to further establish this species as a useful model for explicit tests of hypotheses in aging biology and mitochondrial genetics.BMC Evolutionary Biology 01/2011; 11:11. · 3.52 Impact Factor
Article: Heritable determinants of male fertilization success in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Sperm competition is a driving force in the evolution of male sperm characteristics in many species. In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, larger male sperm evolve under experimentally increased sperm competition and larger male sperm outcompete smaller hermaphrodite sperm for fertilization within the hermaphrodite reproductive tract. To further elucidate the relative importance of sperm-related traits that contribute to differential reproductive success among males, we quantified within- and among-strain variation in sperm traits (size, rate of production, number transferred, competitive ability) for seven male genetic backgrounds known previously to differ with respect to some sperm traits. We also quantified male mating ability in assays for rates of courtship and successful copulation, and then assessed the roles of these pre- and post-mating traits in first- and second-male fertilization success. We document significant variation in courtship ability, mating ability, sperm size and sperm production rate. Sperm size and production rate were strong indicators of early fertilization success for males that mated second, but male genetic backgrounds conferring faster sperm production make smaller sperm, despite virgin males of all genetic backgrounds transferring indistinguishable numbers of sperm to mating partners. We have demonstrated that sperm size and the rate of sperm production represent dominant factors in determining male fertilization success and that C. elegans harbors substantial heritable variation for traits contributing to male reproductive success. C. elegans provides a powerful, tractable system for studying sexual selection and for dissecting the genetic basis and evolution of reproduction-related traits.BMC Evolutionary Biology 01/2011; 11:99. · 3.52 Impact Factor