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Data for: Sex, amitosis, and evolvability in the ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila

Cite this dataset

Tarkington, Jason; Zufall, Rebecca (2022). Data for: Sex, amitosis, and evolvability in the ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila [Dataset]. Dryad.


Understanding the mechanisms that generate genetic variation, and thus contribute to the process of adaptation, is a major goal of evolutionary biology. Mutation and genetic exchange have been well studied as mechanisms to generate genetic variation. However, there are additional factors, such as genome architecture, that may also impact the amount of genetic variation in some populations, and the extent to which these variation generating mechanisms are themselves shaped by natural selection is still an open question. To test the effect of genome architecture on the generation of genetic variation, and hence evolvability, we studied Tetrahymena thermophila, a ciliate with an unusual genome structure and mechanism of nuclear division, called amitosis, whereby homologous chromosomes are randomly distributed to daughter cells. Amitosis leads to genetic variation among the asexual descendants of a newly produced sexual progeny because different progeny cells will contain different combinations of parental alleles. We hypothesize that amitosis thus increases the evolvability of newly produced sexual progeny relative to their unmated parents and species that undergo mitosis. To test this hypothesis, we used experimental evolution and simulations to compare the rate of adaptation in T. thermophila populations founded by a single sexual progeny to parental populations that had not had sex in many generations. The populations founded by a sexual progeny adapted more quickly than parental populations in both laboratory populations and simulated populations. This suggests that the additional genetic variation generated by amitosis of a heterozygote can increase the rate of adaptation following sex and may help explain the evolutionary success of the unusual genetic architecture of Tetrahymena and ciliates more generally.


Nick Simons Foundation