A century of bias in genetics and evolution.

Affiliation

The Milner Centre for Evolution, University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY, UK. [Email]

Abstract

Mendel proposed that the heritable material is particulate and that transmission of alleles is unbiased. An assumption of unbiased transmission was necessary to show how variation can be preserved in the absence of selection, so overturning an early objection to Darwinism. In the second half of the twentieth century, it was widely recognised that even strongly deleterious alleles can invade if they have strongly biased transmission (i.e. strong segregation distortion). The spread of alleles with distorted segregation can explain many curiosities. More recently, the selectionist-neutralist duopoly was broken by the realisation that biased gene conversion can explain phenomena such as mammalian isochore structures. An initial focus on unbiased transmission in 1919, has thus given way to an interest in biased transmission in 2019. A focus on very weak bias is now possible owing to technological advances, although technical biases may put a limit on resolving power. To understand the relevance of weak bias we could profit from having the concept of the effectively Mendelian allele, a companion to the effectively neutral allele. Understanding the implications of unbiased and biased transmission may, I suggest, be a good way to teach evolution so as to avoid psychological biases.

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