Causes and Consequences of Recombination Rate Variation in Drosophila

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Recombination occurs during meiosis to produce new allelic combinations in natural populations, and thus strongly affects evolutionary processes. The model system Drosophila has been crucial for understanding the mechanics underlying recombination and assessing the association between recombination rate and several evolutionary parameters. Drosophila was the first system in which genetic maps were developed using recombination frequencies between genes. Further, Drosophila has been used to determine genetic and environmental conditions that cause variation in recombination rate. Finally, Drosophila has been instrumental in elucidating associations between local recombination rate and nucleotide diversity, divergence and codon bias, as well as helping determine the causes of these associations.

Here I present a fine-scale map of recombination rates across two major chromosomes in Drosophila persimilis using 181 SNP markers spanning two of five major chromosome arms. Using this map, I report significant fine-scale heterogeneity of local recombination rates. However, I also observed "recombinational neighborhoods", where adjacent intervals had similar recombination rates after excluding regions near the centromere and telomere. I further found significant positive associations of fine-scale recombination rate with repetitive element abundance and a 13-bp sequence motif known to associate with human recombination rates. I noted strong crossover interference extending 5-7 Mb from the initial crossover event. Further, I observed that fine-scale recombination rates in D. persimilis are strongly correlated with those obtained from a comparable study of its sister species, D. pseudoobscura. I documented a significant relationship between recombination rates and intron nucleotide sequence diversity within species, but no relationship between recombination rate and intron divergence between species. These results are consistent with selection models (hitchhiking and background selection) rather than mutagenic recombination models for explaining the relationship of recombination with nucleotide diversity within species. Finally, I found significant correlations between recombination rate and GC content, supporting both GC-biased gene conversion (BGC) models and selection-driven codon bias models.

Next, I looked at the role of chromosomal inversions in species maintenance by examining the impact of inversions distinguishing species to disrupt recombination rates within inverted regions, at inversion boundaries and throughout the remainder of the genome. By screening nearly 10,000 offspring from females heterozygous for 3 major inversions, I observed recombination rates within an inverted region in hybrids between Drosophila pseudoobscura and D. persimilis to be ~10-4 (similar to rates of exchange for inversion heterozygotes within species). However, despite the apparent potential for exchange, I do not find empirical evidence of ongoing gene exchange within the largest of 3 major inversions in DNA sequence analyses of strains isolated from natural populations. Finally, I observe a strong 'interchromosomal effect' with up to 9-fold higher (>800% different) recombination rates along collinear segments of chromosome 2 in hybrids, revealing a significantly negative association between interchromosomal effect and recombination rate in homokaryotypes, and I show that interspecies nucleotide divergence is lower in regions with larger changes in recombination rates in hybrids, potentially resulting from greater interspecies exchange. This last result suggests an effect of chromosomal inversions on interspecies gene exchange not considered previously.

Finally, I experimentally tested for a novel male-mediated effect on female recombination rates by crossing males that differed by either induced treatment variation or standing genetic variation to genetically identical females. After assaying recombination frequency in the offspring of these genetic crosses, I fitted these data to a statistical model where I showed no effect of male temperature treatment or male genetic background on offspring recombination rate. However, I did observe a difference of recombination rates of offspring laid 5-8 days post-mating between males treated with Juvenile Hormone relative to control males. Environmental variation in male ability to affect recombination rate in their mates suggests the potential for sexual conflict on optimal proportion of recombinant offspring, perhaps leading to changes in population-level recombination rates with varying levels of sexual selection.

Overall, my map of fine-scale recombination rates allowed me to confirm findings of broader-scale studies and identify multiple novel features that merit further investigation. Furthermore, I have identified several similarities and differences between inversions segregating within vs. between species in their effects on recombination and divergence, and I have identified possible effects of inversions on interspecies gene exchange that had not been considered previously. Finally, I have provided some evidence that males may impact female recombination rates, although future work should attempt to explore the range of male differences that impact this trait and the mechanism through which males impact the outcome of female meiosis.






Stevison, Laurie S. (2011). Causes and Consequences of Recombination Rate Variation in Drosophila. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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