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The typical life cycle of an aphid is cyclical parthenogenesis which involves the alternation of sexual and asexual reproduction. However, aphid life cycles, even within a species, can encompass everything on a continuum from obligate sexuality, through facultative sexuality to obligate asexuality. Loss of the sexual cycle in aphids is frequently associated with the introduction of a new pest and can occur for a number of environmental and genetic reasons. Here we investigate loss of sexual function in Sitobion aphids in Australia. Specifically, we aimed to determine whether an absence of sexual reproduction in Australian Sitobion results from genetic loss of sexual function or environmental constraints in the introduced range. We addressed our aims by performing a series of breeding experiments. We found that some lineages have genetically lost sexual function while others retain sexual function and appear environmentally constrained to asexuality. Further, in our crosses, using autosomal and X-linked microsatellite markers, we identified processes deviating from normal Mendelian segregation. We observed strong deviations in X chromosome transmission through the sexual cycle. Additionally, when progeny genotypes were examined across multiple loci simultaneously we found that some multilocus genotypes are significantly over-represented in the sample and that levels of heterozygosity were much higher than expected at almost all loci. This study demonstrates that strong biases in the transmission of X chromosomes through the sexual cycle are likely to be widespread in aphids. The mechanisms underlying these patterns are not clear. We discuss several possible alternatives, including mutation accumulation during periods of functional asexuality and genetic imprinting.


Copyright © 2006 Cambridge University Press. First Published in Genetical Research 87:175-185 (2006). (doi:10.1017/S0016672306008202)