Variable Populations Within Variable Populations: Quantifying Mitochondrial Heteroplasmy in Natural Populations of the Gynodioecious Plant Silene vulgaris
Mark E. Welch, Michael Z. Darnell, David E. McCauley


Populations of mitochondria reside within individuals. Among angiosperms, these populations are rarely considered as genetically variable entities and typically are not found to be heteroplasmic in nature, leading to the widespread assumption that plant mitochondrial populations are homoplasmic. However, empirical studies of mitochondrial variation in angiosperms are relatively uncommon due to a paucity of sequence variation. Recent greenhouse studies of Silene vulgaris suggested that heteroplasmy might occur in this species at a level that it is biologically relevant. Here, we use established qualitative methods and a novel quantitative PCR method to study the intraindividual population genetics of mitochondria across two generations in natural populations of S. vulgaris. We show incidences of heteroplasmy for mitochondrial atpA and patterns of inheritance that are suggestive of more widespread heteroplasmy at both atpA and cox1. Further, our results demonstrate that quantitative levels of mitochondrial variation within individuals are high, constituting 26% of the total in one population. These findings are most consistent with a biparental model of mitochondrial inheritance. However, selection within individuals may be instrumental in the maintenance of variation because S. vulgaris is gynodioecious. Male sterility is, in part, regulated by the mitochondrial genome, and strong selection pressures appear to influence the frequency of females in these populations.


  • Sequence data from this article have been deposited with the EMBL/GenBank Data Libraries under accession nos. DQ422872DQ422877.

  • 1 Present address: Graduate Program in Ecology, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708.

  • Communicating editor: D. M. Rand

  • Received April 10, 2006.
  • Accepted July 31, 2006.
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