The signature of balancing selection: Fungal mating compatibility gene evolution

Georgiana May, Frank Shaw, Hassan Badrane, Xavier Vekemans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


A key problem in evolutionary biology has been distinguishing the contributions of current and historical processes to the maintenance of genetic variation. Because alleles at self-recognition genes are under balancing selection, they exhibit extended residence times in populations and thus may provide unique insight into population demographic history. However, evidence for balancing selection and extended residence times has almost exclusively depended on identification of transspecific polymorphisms; polymorphisms retained in populations through speciation events. We present a broadly applicable approach for detecting balancing selection and apply it to the b1 mating type gene in the mushroom fungus Coprinus cinereus. The comparison of neutral molecular variation within and between allelic classes was used to directly estimate the strength of balancing selection. Different allelic classes are defined as encoding different mating compatibility types and are thus potentially subject to balancing selection. Variation within an allelic class, where all alleles have the same mating compatibility type, provided an internal standard of neutral evolution. Mating compatibility in this organism is determined by the complex A mating type locus, and b1 is one of several redundantly functioning genes. Consequently, we conducted numerical simulations of a model with two subloci and varying levels of recombination to show that balancing selection should operate at each sublocus. Empirical data show that strong balancing selection has indeed occurred at the b1 locus. The widespread geographic distribution of identical b1 alleles suggests that their association with differing A mating types is the result of recent recombination events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9172-9177
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 3 1999


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