A quantitative population genetics model for the evolution of transposable genetic elements is developed. This model shows that "selfish" DNA sequences do not have to be selectively neutral at the organismic level; indeed, such DNA can produce major deleterious effects in the host organism and still spread through the population. The model can be used to explain the evolution of introns within eukaryotic genes; this explanation does not invoke a long-term evolutionary advantage for introns, nor does it depend on the hypothesis that eukaryotic gene structure may be an evolutionary relic. Transposable genes that carried information specifying sexual reproduction in the host organism would favor their own spread. Consequently, it is tempting to speculate that some of the genes controlling sex were originally selected as transposable elements.
- Received November 30, 1981.
- Accepted April 10, 1982.