Estimating the spontaneous mutation rate of loss of sex in the human pathogenic fungus Cryptococcus neoformans.
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Few events have evolutionary consequences as pervasive as changes in reproductive behavior. Among those changes, the loss of the ability to undergo sexual reproduction is probably the most profound. However, little is known about the rate of loss of sex. Here I describe an experimental system using the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans and provide the first empirical estimate of the spontaneous mutation rate of loss of sex in fungi. Two critical steps in sexual reproduction in C. neoformans were examined: mating and filamentation. Mating, the fusion of cells of opposite sexes, is a universal first step in eukaryotic sexual reproduction. In contrast, filamentation, a prerequisite process preceding meiosis and sexual spore development, is restricted to C. neoformans and a few other fungal species. After approximately 600 mitotic divisions under favorable asexual growth conditions, mean abilities for mating and filamentation decreased significantly by >67 and 24%, respectively. Similarly, though statistically not significant, the mean vegetative growth rates also decreased and among the mutation accumulation lines, the vegetative growth rates were negatively correlated to the mating ability. The estimated mutation rates to decreases in mating ability and filamentation were in excess of 0.0172 and 0.0036, respectively. The results show that C. neoformans can be a highly attractive model for analyses of reproductive system evolution in fungi.
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