The aphid Rhopalosiphum padi shows coexistence of sexual and asexual populations, providing an opportunity to study the evolution of breeding system variation in the context of theories on the origin and maintenance of sex. However, assessments of the distribution of sexual and asexual lineages of this aphid are complicated by the difficulties in rapidly characterizing their breeding system. To facilitate this task and to gain insight into the genetic relatedness between sexual and asexual genotypes, molecular markers linked to breeding system differences were recently developed. In this study, we have successfully converted a random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) marker associated with life-cycle variation in R. padi into a codominant sequence-characterized amplified region (SCAR). Segregating and natural populations of known breeding systems were examined to evaluate the life cycle–SCAR marker association. Complete linkage was found in segregating populations while the association averaged 94% in field populations. Detailed analysis of allelic distribution and sequence divergence of the SCAR locus among sexual and asexual populations provides further evidence for a unique and apparently ancient loss of sexuality in this aphid. It also suggests that occasional gene flow occurs between populations differing in their breeding system, mediated by males produced by ‘asexual’ lineages. This system provides the possibility for the recurrent emergence of new asexual lineages, ensuring the longer persistence of asexuality, and would have important implications for the assessment of costs and benefits of sex in aphids.
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