A selfish genetic element confers non-Mendelian inheritance in rice

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Science  08 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6393, pp. 1130-1132
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar4279

Sterility in rice via toxin and antidote

Crossing wild and domestic rice often results in hybrid sterility. Such genetic barriers can prevent the movement of potentially beneficial genes from wild rice into domestic varieties. To understand the barriers preventing gene flow, Yu et al. mapped a quantitative trait locus (QTL) that determines sterility between wild-type and domestic rice. This QTL encodes two open reading frames (ORFs) that are both expressed during gametogenesis. The ORFs encode a toxin, which affects the development of pollen, and an antidote, which is required for pollen viability. Thus, selfish genetic elements can underlie evolutionary strategies that facilitate reproductive isolation.

Science, this issue p. 1130


Selfish genetic elements are pervasive in eukaryote genomes, but their role remains controversial. We show that qHMS7, a major quantitative genetic locus for hybrid male sterility between wild rice (Oryza meridionalis) and Asian cultivated rice (O. sativa), contains two tightly linked genes [Open Reading Frame 2 (ORF2) and ORF3]. ORF2 encodes a toxic genetic element that aborts pollen in a sporophytic manner, whereas ORF3 encodes an antidote that protects pollen in a gametophytic manner. Pollens lacking ORF3 are selectively eliminated, leading to segregation distortion in the progeny. Analysis of the genetic sequence suggests that ORF3 arose first, followed by gradual functionalization of ORF2. Furthermore, this toxin-antidote system may have promoted the differentiation and/or maintained the genome stability of wild and cultivated rice.

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