Evolutionary robustness of killer meiotic drives

Philip G. Madgwick, Jason B. Wolf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (SciVal)


A meiotic driver is a selfish genetic element that interferes with the process of meiosis to promote its own transmission. The most common mechanism of interference is gamete killing, where the meiotic driver kills gametes that do not contain it. A killer meiotic driver is predicted to spread rapidly through a population at the expense of other genes in the rest of the genome. The rapid spread of a killer meiotic driver is expected to be chased by the rapid spread of a suppressor that returns fair meiosis. Paradoxically, while this might imply that meiotic drivers should be evolutionarily transient, numerous ancient killer meiotic drivers have been discovered that have persisted for millions of years. To understand the rationale that could potentially explain such evolutionary robustness, we explore different possible mechanisms of killer meiotic drive and the different possible associated mechanisms of suppression. We use a framework that considers how the different stages of meiosis result in different structured interactions among cells with different genotypes in various combinations. Across possible interactions, we show that there are three genotypically distinct drive mechanisms that create alternative selective conditions for the spread of different types of suppressors. We show that killer meiotic drivers are more evolutionarily robust if they operate among sister cells (after meiosis I and before meiosis II) than at any other point during meiosis. The different drive mechanisms we identify make testable predictions that could explain why some killer meiotic drivers are transient while others are ancient.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541-550
Number of pages10
JournalEvolution Letters
Issue number5
Early online date12 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank our funders: SWBio DTP (BBSRC) for P. G. M. and BBSRC for J. B. W. (BB/M01035X/1). We would also like to thank Austin Burt, Mike Wade, and three anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.



  • Gamete killers
  • gene drive
  • segregation distorters
  • selfish genetic elements
  • suppressors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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