Understanding the prevalence of sexual reproduction in eukaryotes is a hard problem. At least two aspects still defy a fully satisfactory explanation, the functional significance of genetic recombination and the great variation among taxa in the relative lengths of the haploid and diploid phases in the sexual cycle. We have performed an experimental study to explore the specific advantages of haploidy or diploidy in the fungus Aspergillus nidulans. Comparing the rate of adaptation to a novel environment between haploid and isogenic diploid strains over 3,000 mitotic generations, we demonstrate that diploid strains, which during the experiment have reverted to haploidy following parasexual recombination, reach the highest fitness. This is due to the accumulation of recessive deleterious mutations in diploid nuclei, some of which show their combined beneficial effect in haploid recombinants. Our findings show the adaptive significance of mitotic recombination combined with flexibility in the timing of ploidy level transition if sign epistasis is an important determinant of fitness.
- yeast populations