Mother’s curse is pervasive across a large mitonuclear Drosophila panel

Carnegie L, Reuter M, Fowler K, Lane N, Camus MF Evolution Letters. Evol. Lett. 5: 230-39


The maternal inheritance of mitochondrial genomes entails a sex-specific selective sieve, whereby mutations in mitochondrial DNA can only respond to selection acting on females. In theory, this enables male-harming mutations to accumulate in mitochondrial genomes as long as they are neutral, beneficial, or only slightly deleterious to females. Ultimately, this bias could drive the evolution of male-specific mitochondrial mutation loads, an idea known as mother’s curse. Earlier work on this hypothesis has mainly used small Drosophila panels, in which naturally sourced mitochondrial genomes were coupled to an isogenic nuclear background. The lack of nuclear genetic variation in these designs has precluded robust generalization. Here, we test the predictions of mother’s curse using a large Drosophila mitonuclear genetic panel, comprising nine isogenic nuclear genomes coupled to nine mitochondrial haplotypes, giving a total of 81 different mitonuclear genotypes. Following a predictive framework, we tested the mother’s curse hypothesis by screening our panel for wing size. This trait is tightly correlated with overall body size and is sexually dimorphic in Drosophila. Moreover, growth is heavily reliant on metabolism and mitochondrial function, making wing size an ideal trait for the study of the impact of mitochondrial variation. We detect high levels of mitonuclear epistasis, and more importantly, we report that mitochondrial genetic variance is larger in male than female Drosophila for eight out of the nine nuclear genetic backgrounds used. These results demonstrate that the maternal inheritance of mitochondrial DNA does indeed modulate male life history traits in a more generalisable way than previously demonstrated.