One of the most promising hypotheses for the evolution of sex is that sexual reproduction is advantageous because it increases the rate of adaptive evolution in response to parasites. To investigate this advantage of sex, we compared genetic variation of geminiviruses infecting sexual and asexual populations of Eupatorium (Asteraceae). The infection frequency was 37.5% in the sexual population and 87.8% in the asexual population. The lower infection frequency in the sexual population might be the result of higher genetic diversity of host plants. If geminiviruses have diverged to counter defence systems of genetically variable hosts, genetic diversity of viruses is expected to be higher in sexual host populations than in asexual host populations. To test this expectation, we used single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) analysis to examine genetic diversity of the geminiviruses in a DNA region containing the open-reading frame (ORF) C4 gene, which is known to function as a host range determinant. As predicted, higher genetic diversity of viruses was observed in the sexual population: three SSCP types were found in the asexual population while six types were found in the sexual population. Sequencing of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) products revealed further genetic diversity. Phylogenetic analysis of the sequences showed that the SSCP types belonged to four different clades. Several SSCP types from the same clade were found in the sexual population, whereas the asexual population included only one SSCP type from each clade. Amino acid replacements of ORF C4 are suggested to be accelerated in the sexual population. This evidence supports the hypothesis that sexual reproduction is advantageous as a defence against epidemic disease.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics