Evolutionary Biology Meiotic Drive
Kathleen E. Pieper, Kelly Dyer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 April 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199941728-0103


Genetic conflict occurs when one part of the genome increases its own fitness at the expense of another part of the genome. Mendel’s law of equal segregation states that each member of a pair of alleles will be equally represented in an organism’s gametes. Meiotic drive occurs when processes during meiosis or later stages of gametogenesis skew that ratio, such that one allele (the “driving” allele) is overrepresented in the gametes. It is sometimes also called transmission ratio distortion or segregation distortion. Meiotic drive systems are known in plants, animals, and fungi and can occur in females, males, and during haploid gametogenesis. Female meiosis may be particularly susceptible to meiotic drive since only one of the four products of meiosis develops into the mature gamete, while the other products of meiosis become the polar bodies of the egg. Male meiosis is also susceptible to disruption, usually through sabotaging the development or function of sperm carrying the non-driving allele. While female drive is considered “true” meiotic drive, the term meiotic drive is also commonly used to describe male-drive systems where interruptions occur in post-meiotic stages of gametogenesis. Far from being a genetic curiosity, meiotic drive and the genetic conflict it can cause may have had a wide-reaching and significant impacts on evolutionary phenomena such as the evolution of sex and recombination, the process of speciation, and genomic structure. Meiotic drive is a rich field of study that includes investigations into the molecular mechanisms that cause drive, the evolutionary and ecological dynamics that maintain drive systems in the wild, and the molecular evolutionary consequences of drive. Synthetic meiotic drive systems are a rapidly growing area of innovation, with potential uses such as controlling populations of insect vectors of disease.

General Overviews

There are some excellent overviews of meiotic drive. Sandler and Novitski 1957 is notable for being the first overview of meiotic drive and the first discussion of its potential evolutionary consequences. Burt and Trivers 2006 is the most thorough overview. This book goes over a wide variety of selfish genetic elements, including many different types of drive. They cover male and female autosomal meiotic drive, sex chromosome drive, spore killer drive, and centromere drive, and for each they give an overview of what is known about both the molecular mechanisms and its ecological and evolutionary impact. Lyttle 1991 is similarly a very thorough overview of different kinds of meiotic drive systems, but this review takes a comparative approach between systems that is quite informative. Lindholm, et al. 2016 is an excellent overview of the evolutionary and ecological impacts of a wide variety of meiotic drive systems, including very recent developments in synthetic driving systems.

  • Burt, A., and R. Trivers. 2006. Genes in conflict: The biology of selfish genetic elements. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.4159/9780674029118

    This book contains several chapters dedicated to an overview of autosomal killers, sex chromosome drive, and female meiotic drive. These chapters provide a thorough summary of research on both the molecular mechanisms and evolutionary consequences of drive. While perhaps too difficult for a general audience, this book is generally more accessible than the primary literature and is an excellent first introduction to the field.

  • Lindholm, A. K., K. A. Dyer, R. C. Firman, et al. 2016. The ecology and evolutionary dynamics of meiotic drive. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 31.4: 315–326.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2016.02.001

    This recent review highlights the ecological and evolutionary effects of a wide swath of meiotic drive elements, including recently developed synthetic meiotic drive systems. They discuss effects on gametogenesis, genome structure, coevolution with suppressors, mating system evolution, and more.

  • Lyttle, T. W. 1991. Segregation distorters. Annual Review of Genetics 25.1: 511–581.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.ge.25.120191.002455

    This review takes a very informative comparative approach to describe the molecular and evolutionary research into different kinds of meiotic drive, including major study systems like SD, t-haplotype, and sex-ratio. More obscure systems are also discussed.

  • Sandler, L., and E. Novitski. 1957. Meiotic drive as an evolutionary force. American Naturalist 91.857: 105–110.

    DOI: 10.1086/281969

    This paper was one of the first to identify meiotic drive as an important process with consequences for evolution. The authors review the previous work on meiotic drive in various systems, including examples of drive in males and females and involving autosomes and sex chromosomes. They discuss the potential evolutionary implications of drive, including the fixation of linked deleterious alleles.

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