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PUBLIC RELEASE DATE:
23-Jan-2014

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Contact: Dustin Penn
dustin.penn@vetmeduni.ac.at
43-148-909-15823
University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna

Choose your love

Sexual selection enhances ability of offspring to cope with infection

IMAGE: Choosing the right partner is essential for the health and survival of offspring.

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To test whether female mate choice enhances the health and disease-resistance of offspring, either through immune resistance, tolerance to infection, or both, researchers led by Dustin Penn tested female house mice's preferences (Mus musculus) for particular males and then experimentally assigned each female to mate with either their preferred or their non-preferred male. They found that females that mated with their preferred male produced more offspring and were better able to cope with infection (from Salmonella, a common mouse pathogen) compared to offspring sired by non-preferred males. They were no better at controlling pathogen loads than offspring from non-preferred males, which suggests that the fitness benefits were due to tolerance to infection rather than immune resistance (the ability to control or eliminate pathogens) per se.

In 1982, Hamilton and Zuk suggested that mate choice enables females to select healthy, disease-resistant males, and produce disease-resistant offspring. Since then many studies have confirmed that showy secondary sexual traits provide information about males' immune resistance and parasite loads, and females are more attracted to healthy males. Doubts have remained about the hypothesis, however, partly because studies so far have mainly measured disease-resistance indirectly, assessing parasite loads or immune responses to antigens, which do not necessarily reflect health and disease-resistance.

This study provides direct experimental evidence that females' partner preferences enhance the ability of offspring to cope with infection in house mice. The authors suggest that females assess males' overall condition and health rather than immune resistance per se, and for this reason, sexual selection should enhance offspring tolerance, as well as immune resistance to infection. Penn and others have shown that ability to resist and survive Salmonella infection is influenced by MHC genes and other loci. However, he emphasizes that they still need to determine whether the fitness benefits they found were due to genetics or maternal allocation into preferred offspring, and that either mechanism will be interesting to explore in future studies.

Shirley Raveh, the lead author of the paper said she was "quite surprised by their findings. If there are indirect benefits from sexual selection, they would have been for improved immune resistance."

She explains that she hopes their findings will stimulate renewed interest in parasite-mediated sexual selection, along with the rapidly growing interest in tolerance to infection.

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The article „Female partner preferences enhance offspring ability to survive an infection" by Shirley Raveh, Sanja Sutalo, Kerstin E. Thonhauser, Michaela Thoß, Attila Hettyey, Friederike Winkelser and Dustin J. Penn was published today in the Journal BMC Evolutionary Biology. BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:14 doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-14 http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2148/14/14

About the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna

The University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna is the only academic and research institution in Austria that focuses on the veterinary sciences. About 1200 employees and 2300 students work on the campus in the north of Vienna, which also houses the animal hospital and various spin-off-companies. http://www.vetmeduni.ac.at

BMC Evolutionary Biology is an open access, peer-reviewed journal that considers articles on all aspects of molecular and non-molecular evolution of all organisms, as well as phylogenetics and palaeontology. @BMC_Series

Scientific Contact:

Dustin Penn, PhD
Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology
University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna)
T +43 1 4890915-823
dustin.penn@vetmeduni.ac.at

Released by:

Susanna Kautschitsch
Science Communication / Public Relations
University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna)
T +43 1 25077-1153
susanna.kautschitsch@vetmeduni.ac.at



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