Genomic imprinting, the unequal expression of gene alleles on the basis of parent of origin, is a major exception to mendelian laws of inheritance. By maintaining one allele of a gene in a silent state, imprinted genes discard the advantages of diploidy, and for this reason the rationale for the evolution of imprinting has been debated. One explanation is the parent- offspring conflict model, which proposes that imprinting arose in polyandrous mammals as the result of a parental conflict over the allocation of maternal resources to embryos. This theory predicts that there should be no selection for imprinting in a monogamous species. Crosses between the monogamous rodent species Peromyscus polionotus and the polyandrous Peromyscus maniculatus yield progeny with parent-of-origin growth defects that could be explained if imprinting was absent in the monogamous species. We find, however, that imprinting is maintained in P. polionotus, but there is widespread disruption of imprinting in the hybrids. We suggest that the signals governing genomic imprinting are rapidly evolving and that disruptions in the process may contribute to mammalian speciation.
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