Frozen F1’s amidst a masterpiece of nature: new insights into the rare hybrid origin of gynogenesis in the Amazon molly (Poecilia formosa)


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All-female ‘species’ of fish have been shown to be great models in ecological and evolutionary studies because of the insights they can provide into the origin and evolution of asexuality, the ecology of hybrids, associations between genotype and environment, and the maintenance of sex. Gynogenetic organisms that evolved from sexual ancestors, and combine the disadvantageous traits from sexuality and asexuality, have long baffled evolutionary biologists trying to understand their origin and persistence with their sympatric sexual counterparts. In this issue, a new study using an integrated molecular phylogenetic and classical genetic approach has uncovered compelling evidence regarding the obscure asexual origin of the Amazon molly, Poecilia formosa. By performing an extensive phylogeographic analysis, Stöck et al. (2010) provide evidence that the Amazon molly arose only once within its history, with monophyly being strongly supported by mitochondrial DNA and microsatellite analyses. This result, combined with an elaborate failed attempt to resynthesize the lineage, suggests that vertebrate gynogens such as the Amazon molly are not rare because they are at a disadvantage to their sexual counterparts, but because the genomic conditions under which they arise are rare. Organisms that apparently combine the disadvantages of both sexuality and asexuality remain difficult to understand from both an ecological and an evolutionary perspective, and Stöck et al. (2010) highlight several outstanding important questions. Nonetheless, given that we now have a better knowledge of the origin and history of this unique ‘species’, this should allow researchers to better understand how these frozen F1’s can persist amidst the masterpiece of nature.