Selfing is widespread – from unicellular organisms to the most complex hermaphroditic plants and animals (especially invertebrates). In unicellular organisms such as Protozoa, selfing can occur when two individuals (or their cell nuclei) interbreed that were produced from a previous mitotic division of the same individual.
Among hermaphrodite animals there are some that regularly reproduce by self-fertilization. In others, it is a rare event; selfing in such species is more common in adverse environmental conditions, or in the absence of a partner.
Genetic consequences of selfing
Self-fertilization results in the loss of genetic variation within an individual (offspring), because many of the genetic loci that were heterozygous become homozygous. This can result in the expression of harmful recessive alleles, which can have serious consequences for the individual. The effects are most extreme when self-fertilization occurs in organisms that are usually out-crossing. After several generations, inbreeding depression is likely to purge the deleterious alleles from the population because the individuals carrying them have mostly died or failed to reproduce.
If no other effects interfere, the proportion of heterozygous loci is halved in each successive generation, as shown in the following table.
- Parental : x (100%), and in
- 1 generation gives: : : , which means that the frequency of heterozygotes now is 50% of the starting value.
- By the 10 generation, heterozygotes have almost completely disappeared, and the population is polarized, with almost exclusively homozygous individuals ( and )
Illustration model of the decrease in genetic variation in a population of self-fertilized organisms derived from a heterozygous individual, assuming equal fitness
|F10||49.995117187 ≈ 50.0||0.09765626 ≈ 0.0||49.995117187 ≈ 50.0|
- Effective selfing model
- Inbreeding depression
- Outbreeding depression
- Sequential hermaphroditism; the organism spends part of its life as a female and part as a male; self-fertilization is not possible.
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