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Abstract

Sexual reproduction is the dominant reproductive mode in eukaryotes but, in many taxa, it has never been observed. Molecular methods that detect evidence of sex are largely based on the genetic consequences of sexual reproduction. Here we describe a powerful new approach to directly search genomes for genes that function in meiosis. We describe a “meiosis detection toolkit”, a set of meiotic genes that represent the best markers for the presence of meiosis. These genes are widely present in eukaryotes, function only in meiosis and can be isolated by degenerate PCR. The presence of most, or all, of these genes in a genome would suggest they have been maintained for meiosis and, implicitly, sexual reproduction. In contrast, their absence would be consistent with the loss of meiosis and asexuality. This approach will help to understand both meiotic gene evolution and the capacity for meiosis and sex in putative obligate asexuals. BioEssays 30:579–589, 2008. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.