, Volume 8, Issue 5, pp 560-584

Pathogens and sex in plants

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Summary

Extant theories that attribute the evolution of sex to pathogen attack depend on the assumption that pathogens are narrowly specialized, so that high fitness on one host genotype results in poor fitness on hosts with other allele combinations. This assumption is necessary in order for frequency-dependent selection to produce sustained cycling of gametic disequilibrium across the host's disease resistance loci, which makes recombination advantageous. However, a review of numerous genetic studies on plant disease resistance failed to uncover a single example consistent with this assumption. Instead, the empirical results provide strong support for a different pattern of pathogen specificity, in which adaptation by pathogens to one resistance allele does not preclude high fitness on alternate host genotypes lacking that allele. Modification of traditional models for pathogen-mediated evolution of sex showed that for conditions close to the empirical pattern of genotypic specificity, sex is almost never favoured. For plants, these results cast doubt on current theories arguing that pathogens are the primary selective agent responsible for sexual reproduction.