The Costs of Breathing

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Science  14 Oct 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6053, pp. 184-185
DOI: 10.1126/science.1214012

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Eukaryotic cell respiration depends on the interactions of proteins encoded by two genomes, mitochondrial and nuclear, which evolve in radically different ways. Mitochondrial genes evolve asexually (mitochondrial DNA is generally passed from mother to offspring without recombination), unlike nuclear genes, and their mutation rate can be orders of magnitude faster than the nuclear average (1). Despite these differences, the two genomes coadapt to each other over evolutionary time (2): Mutations in one genome are offset by changes in the other, preserving respiratory function and possibly adapting it to changes in diet and climate (3). The details of selection may hold surprising implications for fitness, fertility, and aging.