Selfish Gene Acts as Both Poison and Antidote to Eliminate Competition

In collaboration with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center researchers, Stowers researchers identified a gene found in fission yeast that acts as both a poison and an antidote to ensure its transmission into the next generation, and to eliminate its competition. Stowers Assistant Investigator Sarah Zanders, PhD, and colleagues detailed how the parasitic selfish gene S. kambucha wtf4 destroys developing gametes (analogous to sperm) that don’t possess it. The gene poisons developing gametes, but keeps the antidote for itself. Zanders likens the mechanism to a dinner party in a murder mystery novel, in which everyone, including the host, is poisoned, but the host has the antidote.

Gametes that inherit the selfish genes are protected because they have the antidote. The gametes that don’t inherit the selfish genes are destroyed. According to Zanders, the study expands the current knowledge of the nature of gamete-killing meiotic drive genes and how they can contribute to infertility. The finding may also guide future discoveries of meiotic drive genes in other organisms, such as crops or humans.

This report was published June 20, 2017, in eLife.