The costs of being male: are there sex-specific effects of uniparental mitochondrial inheritance?

M. Beekman, D.K. Dowling, D.K. Aanen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


Eukaryotic cells typically contain numerous mitochondria, each with multiple copies of their own genome, the mtDNA. Uniparental transmission of mitochondria, usually via the mother, prevents the mixing of mtDNA from different individuals. While on the one hand, this should resolve the potential for selection for fast-replicating mtDNA variants that reduce organismal fitness, maternal inheritance will, in theory, come with another set of problems that are specifically relevant to males. Maternal inheritance implies that the mitochondrial genome is never transmitted through males, and thus selection can target only the mtDNA sequence when carried by females. A consequence is that mtDNA mutations that confer male-biased phenotypic expression will be prone to evade selection, and accumulate. Here, we review the evidence from the ecological, evolutionary and medical literature for male specificity of mtDNA mutations affecting fertility, health and ageing. While such effects have been discovered experimentally in the laboratory, their relevance to natural populations—including the human population—remains unclear. We suggest that the existence of male expression-biased mtDNA mutations is likely to be a broad phenomenon, but that these mutations remain cryptic owing to the presence of counter-adapted nuclear compensatory modifier mutations, which offset their deleterious effects
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Biological sciences
Issue number1646
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • cytoplasmic male-sterility
  • dna mutations
  • life-span
  • maternal inheritance
  • unisexual sterility
  • mussel mytilus
  • mothers curse
  • haldanes rule
  • seed beetle
  • evolution

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