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Zanders Lab

We are interested in understanding sexual reproduction and how its evolution is shaped by genetic parasites.

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Research Summary

How do genetic parasites impact fertility?

Research Areas

Genetics and Genomics, Development and Regeneration, Evolutionary Biology, Molecular and Cell Biology



The Zanders Lab explores sexual reproduction and the causes of infertility using yeast species as model systems. The lab is interested in identifying all the genes that affect reproduction and understanding how those factors change over time. The Zanders lab uses genetics and genomics to identify genes that promote fertility and to figure out how they work. These genes can be considered ‘good genes’ as they promote the evolutionary fitness.

The Zanders lab also studies ‘selfish genes’ that are generally less well understood. The lab focuses on a specific class of selfish genes called ‘killer meiotic drivers.’ These killers are maintained in genomes because they cheat during the production of gametes (e.g. eggs and sperm) to bias their own transmission into progeny. Killers work by destroying gametes that do not inherit the killer gene. For example, a male with X and Y chromosomes carrying a killer meiotic driver on his Y chromosome would father only sons (XY), as the sperm carrying the X chromosome needed to produce daughters would be destroyed. Rather than promote fertility like good genes, killer meiotic drivers actually decrease the fertility of organisms.

The opposing interests of ‘good genes’ and ‘selfish genes’ places them in an evolutionary conflict. The Zanders lab explores the idea that innovations spurred by this conflict are major factors fueling genome evolution and infertility.

Principal Investigator

SaraH Zanders

Associate Investigator and Vice Dean of the Graduate School

Stowers Institute for Medical Research

Portrait of SaraH Zanders

Get to know the lab


Zanders' accomplishments include the discovery of meiotic drive genes as a postdoctoral researcher. Her research findings, published in 2014 in eLife, suggest that selfish genes play a role in speciation. In collaboration with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center researchers, Zanders and colleagues identified the parasitic selfish gene S. kambucha wtf4, which acts as both a poison and an antidote to eliminate its competition and ensure its transmission into the next generation. The finding, published in 2017 in eLife, expands knowledge of how gamete-killing meiotic drive genes can contribute to infertility.

Photo of team at trampoline park

Our Team

Featured Publications

Diverse mating phenotypes impact the spread of wtf meiotic drivers in Schizosaccharomyces pombe

Lopez Hernandez JF, Helston RM, Lange JJ, Billmyre RB, Schaffner SH, Eickbush MT, McCroskey S, Zanders SE. eLife. 2021;10.

wtf4 meiotic driver utilizes controlled protein aggregation to generate selective cell death

Nuckolls NL, Mok AC, Lange JJ, Yi K, Kandola TS, Hunn AM, McCroskey S, Snyder JL, Bravo Nunez MA, McClain M, McKinney SA, Wood C, Halfmann R, Zanders SE.  eLife. 2020;9:e55694. doi: 55610.57554/eLife.55694.

Atypical meiosis can be adaptive in outcrossed S. pombe due to wtf meiotic drivers

Bravo Nunez MA, Sabbarini IM, Eide LE, Unckless RL, Zanders SE. eLife. 2020;9:e57936. doi: 57910.57554/eLife.57936.

Dramatically diverse Schizosaccharomyces pombe wtf meiotic drivers all display high gamete-killing efficiency

Bravo Nunez MA, Sabbarini IM, Eickbush MT, Liang Y, Lange JJ, Kent AM, Zanders SE. PLoS Genet. 2020;16:e1008350. doi: 1008310.1001371/journal.pgen.1008350.

Killer meiotic drive and dynamic evolution of the wtf gene family

Eickbush MT, Young JM, Zanders SE. Mol Biol Evol. 2019;36:1201-1214.

A suppressor of a wtf poison-antidote meiotic driver acts via mimicry of the driver’s antidote

Bravo Nunez MA, Lange JJ, Zanders SE. PLoS Genet. 2018;14:e1007836.  doi: 1007810.1001371/journal.pgen.1007836.

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