The Sb supergene in the fire ant Solenopsis invicta determines the form of colony social organization, with colonies whose inhabitants bear the element containing multiple reproductive queens and colonies lacking it containing only a single queen. Several features of this supergene - including suppressed recombination, presence of deleterious mutations, association with a large centromere, and "green-beard" behavior - suggest that it may be a selfish genetic element that engages in transmission ratio distortion (TRD), defined as significant departures in progeny allele frequencies from Mendelian inheritance ratios. We tested this possibility by surveying segregation ratios in embryo progenies of 101 queens of the "polygyne" social form (3512 embryos) using three supergene-linked markers and twelve markers outside the supergene.Significant departures from Mendelian ratios were observed at the supergene loci in 3-5 times more progenies than expected in the absence of TRD and than found, on average, among non-supergene loci. Also, supergene loci displayed the greatest mean deviations from Mendelian ratios among all study loci, although these typically were modest. A surprising feature of the observed inter-progeny variation in TRD was that significant deviations involved not only excesses of supergene alleles but also similarly frequent excesses of the alternate alleles on the homologous chromosome. As expected given the common occurrence of such "drive reversal" in this system, alleles associated with the supergene gain no consistent transmission advantage over their alternate alleles at the population level. Finally, we observed low levels of recombination and incomplete gametic disequilibrium across the supergene, including between adjacent markers within a single inversion.Our data confirm the prediction that the Sb supergene is a selfish genetic element capable of biasing its own transmission during reproduction, yet counterselection for suppressor loci evidently has produced an evolutionary stalemate in TRD between the variant homologous haplotypes on the "social chromosome". Evidence implicates prezygotic segregation distortion as responsible for the TRD we document, with "true" meiotic drive the most likely mechanism. Low levels of recombination and incomplete gametic disequilibrium across the supergene suggest that selection does not preserve a single uniform supergene haplotype responsible for inducing polygyny.
Journal: BMC genetics