Selfish centromeres and the wastefulness of human reproduction

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AMUan:yPhleuamseacnonefmirmbrtyhoastadlliheeianduinteglreovoelwsainregrteopraenseenxtcedecsosrorercdtleyf:icit of chromosomes, a phenomenon known as aneuploidy; this is largely a consequence of nondisjunction during maternal meiosis I. Asymmetries of this division render it vulnerable to selfish centromeres that promote their own transmission, these being thought to somehow underpin aneuploidy. In this essay, I suggest that these vulnerabilities provide only half the solution to the enigma. In mammals, as in utero and postnatal provisioning is continuous, the costs of early death are mitigated. With such reproductive compensation, selection can favour a centromere because it induces lethal aneuploidy: if, when taken towards the polar body, it instead kills the embryo via aneuploidy, it gains. The model is consistent with the observation that reduced dosage of a murine drive suppressor induces aneuploidy and with the fact that high aneuploidy rates in vertebrates are seen exclusively in mammals. I propose further tests of this idea. The wastefulness of human reproduction may be a price we pay for nurturing our offspring.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3001671
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Laurence D Hurst. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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