Pleiotropy, adaptation and the evolution of sex differences

11 Jul 2018, 10:30
New Law School/--107 (University of Sydney)

New Law School/--107

University of Sydney



Pleiotropy, adaptation and the evolution of sex differences

  • Tim Connallon ()


Pleiotropy refers to the fact that each genetic variant may affect the expression of multiple traits. This widespread feature of genetic variation is central to the capacity of each trait and type of individual within a population to vary and evolve independently of others, and carries with it broad biological implications. For example, pleiotropy directly impacts the genetic basis of variation among traits, classes of individuals, and population fitness. Pleiotropy potentially generates strong biases in the direction of evolutionary change over time, and across species’ geographic ranges in space. Pleiotropy may also mediate the likelihood of extinction versus population persistence, and may act as either a constraint or facilitator of rapid adaptation in populations exposed to changing environmental conditions.
There is a rich tradition of mathematical models in evolutionary biology that explore consequences of pleiotropy for adaptation and the maintenance and structure of population and quantitative genetic variation. More recent research trends in the field have seen an increased application of classical theories of pleiotropy to modern – and often massive – genomic and quantitative genetic datasets. Another trend is the extension of classical evolutionary models of pleiotropy to various aspects of sex differences, including the potential for adaptive differentiation between sexes, and the manifestation of sex differences in genetic variation and disease.

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