, Volume 12, Issue 5, pp 331-339

Nonrandom segregation during meiosis: the unfairness of females

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Abstract.

Most geneticists assume that chromosome segregation during meiosis is Mendelian (i.e., each allele at each locus is represented equally in the gametes). The great majority of reports that discuss non-Mendelian transmission have focused on systems of gametic selection, such as the mouse t-haplotype and Segregation distorter in Drosophila, or on systems in which post-fertilization selection takes place. Because the segregation of chromosomes in such systems is Mendelian and unequal representation of alleles among offspring is achieved through gamete dysfunction or embryonic death, there is a common perception that true disturbances in the randomness of chromosome segregation are rare and of limited biological significance. In this review we summarize data on nonrandom segregation in a wide variety of genetic systems. Despite apparent differences between some systems, the basic requirements for nonrandom segregation can be deduced from their shared characteristics: i) asymmetrical meiotic division(s); ii) functional asymmetry of the meiotic spindle poles; and iii) functional heterozygosity at a locus that mediates attachment of a chromosome to the spindle. The frequency with which all three of these requirements are fulfilled in natural populations is unknown, but our analyses indicate that nonrandom segregation occurs with sufficient frequency during female meiosis, and in exceptional cases of male meiosis, that it has important biological, clinical, and evolutionary consequences.

Received: 28 December 2000 / Accepted: 23 January 2001