Insights Into Species Divergence and the Evolution of Hermaphroditism From Fertile Interspecies Hybrids of Caenorhabditis Nematodes

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The architecture of both phenotypic variation and reproductive isolation are important problems in evolutionary genetics. The nematode genus Caenorhabditis includes both gonochoristic (male/female) and androdioecious (male/hermaprodite) species. However, the natural genetic variants distinguishing reproductive mode remain unknown, and nothing is known about the genetic basis of postzygotic isolation in the genus. Here we describe the hybrid genetics of the first Caenorhabditis species pair capable of producing fertile hybrid progeny, the gonochoristic Caenorhabditis sp. 9 and the androdioecious C. briggsae. Though many interspecies F(1) arrest during embryogenesis, a viable subset develops into fertile females and sterile males. Reciprocal parental crosses reveal asymmetry in male-specific viability, female fertility, and backcross viability. Selfing and spermatogenesis are extremely rare in XX F(1), and almost all hybrid self-progeny are inviable. Consistent with this, F(1) females do not express male-specific molecular germline markers. We also investigated three approaches to producing hybrid hermaphrodites. A dominant mutagenesis screen for self-fertile F(1) hybrids was unsuccessful. Polyploid F(1) hybrids with increased C. briggsae genomic material did show elevated rates of selfing, but selfed progeny were mostly inviable. Finally, the use of backcrosses to render the hybrid genome partial homozygous for C. briggsae alleles did not increase the incidence of selfing or spermatogenesis relative to the F(1) generation. These hybrid animals were genotyped at 23 loci, and significant segregation distortion (biased against C. briggsae) was detected at 13 loci. This, combined with an absence of productive hybrid selfing, prevents formulation of simple hypotheses about the genetic architecture of hermaphroditism. In the near future, this hybrid system will likely be fruitful for understanding the genetics of reproductive isolation in Caenorhabditis.