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Diverse mechanisms contribute to the evolution of reproductive barriers, a process that is critical in speciation. Amongst these are alterations in gene products and in gene dosage that affect development and reproductive success in hybrid offspring. Because of its strict parent-of-origin dependence, genomic imprinting is thought to contribute to the aberrant phenotypes observed in interspecies hybrids in mammals and flowering plants, when the abnormalities depend on the directionality of the cross. In different groups of mammals, hybrid incompatibility has indeed been linked to loss of imprinting. Aberrant expression levels have been reported as well, including imprinted genes involved in development and growth. Recent studies in humans emphasize that genetic diversity within a species can readily perturb imprinted gene expression and phenotype as well. Despite novel insights into the underlying mechanisms, the full extent of imprinted gene perturbation still remains to be determined in the different hybrid systems. Here we review imprinted gene expression in intra- and interspecies hybrids and examine the evolutionary scenarios under which imprinting could contribute to hybrid incompatibilities. We discuss effects on development and reproduction and possible evolutionary implications.
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