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Occasional paternal inheritance of the germline-restricted chromosome in songbirds

By Yifan Pei, Wolfgang Forstmeier, Francisco J. Ruiz-Ruano, Jakob C. Mueller, Josefa Cabrero, Juan Pedro M Camacho, Juan D. Alche, Andre Franke, Marc Hoeppner, Stefan Boerno, Ivana Gessara, Moritz Hertel, Kim Teltscher, Ulrich Knief, Alexander Suh, Bart Kempenaers

Posted 28 Jan 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.01.28.428604

All songbirds have one special accessory chromosome, the so-called germline-restricted chromosome (GRC), which is only present in germline cells and absent from all somatic tissues. Earlier work on the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata castanotis) showed that the GRC is inherited only through the female line - like mitochondrial DNA - and is eliminated from the sperm during spermatogenesis. Here we show that the GRC can also be paternally inherited. Confocal microscopy using GRC-specific FISH probes indicated that a considerable fraction of sperm heads (1-19%) in zebra finch ejaculates still contained the GRC. In line with these cytogenetic data, sequencing of ejaculates revealed that individual males from two families differed strongly and consistently in the number of GRCs in their ejaculates. Examining a captive-bred population of hybrids of the two zebra finch subspecies (T. g. guttata and T. g. castanotis) revealed that the descendants inherited their mitochondria from a castanotis mother but their GRC from a guttata father. Moreover, GRC haplotypes across nine different castanotis matrilines showed at best a weak tendency to be co-inherited with mtDNA haplotypes. Within castanotis, the GRC showed little variability, while the mtDNA of matrilines was highly divergent. This suggests that a single GRC haplotype has recently spread across the entire castanotis population, crossing the matriline boundaries via paternal spillover. Our findings raise the possibility that certain GRC haplotypes could selfishly spread through the population, via additional paternal transmission, thereby outcompeting other GRC haplotypes that were limited to strict maternal inheritance, even if this was partly detrimental to organismal fitness.

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