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Keywords:

  • Adaptation;
  • evolutionary genomics;
  • genetic variation;
  • genome theory;
  • sex;
  • variation

For over a century, the paradigm has been that sex invariably increases genetic variation, despite many renowned biologists asserting that sex decreases most genetic variation. Sex is usually perceived as the source of additive genetic variance that drives eukaryotic evolution vis-à-vis adaptation and Fisher's fundamental theorem. However, evidence for sex decreasing genetic variation appears in ecology, paleontology, population genetics, and cancer biology. The common thread among many of these disciplines is that sex acts like a coarse filter, weeding out major changes, such as chromosomal rearrangements (that are almost always deleterious), but letting minor variation, such as changes at the nucleotide or gene level (that are often neutral), flow through the sexual sieve. Sex acts as a constraint on genomic and epigenetic variation, thereby limiting adaptive evolution. The diverse reasons for sex reducing genetic variation (especially at the genome level) and slowing down evolution may provide a sufficient benefit to offset the famed costs of sex.