The [PSI+] prion may enhance evolvability by revealing previously cryptic genetic variation, but it is unclear whether such evolvability properties could be favored by natural selection. Sex inhibits the evolution of other putative evolvability mechanisms, such as mutator alleles. This paper explores whether sex also prevents natural selection from favoring modifier alleles that facilitate [PSI+] formation. Sex may permit the spread of "cheater" alleles that acquire the benefits of [PSI +] through mating without incurring the cost of producing [PSI+] at times when it is not adaptive. Using recent quantitative estimates of the frequency of sex in Saccharomyces paradoxus, we calculate that natural selection for evolvability can drive the evolution of the [PSI+] system, so long as yeast populations occasionally require complex adaptations involving synergistic epistasis between two loci. If adaptations are always simple and require substitution at only a single locus, then the [PSI+] system is not favored by natural selection. Obligate sex might inhibit the evolution of [PSI+]-like systems in other species.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology
- Cancer Research