Selfish genetic elements are pervasive in eukaryote genomes, but their role remains controversial. We show that qHMS7, a major quantitative genetic locus for hybrid male sterility between wild rice (Oryza meridionalis) and Asian cultivated rice (O. sativa), contains two tightly linked genes [Open Reading Frame 2 (ORF2) and ORF3]. ORF2 encodes a toxic genetic element that aborts pollen in a sporophytic manner, whereas ORF3 encodes an antidote that protects pollen in a gametophytic manner. Pollens lacking ORF3 are selectively eliminated, leading to segregation distortion in the progeny. Analysis of the genetic sequence suggests that ORF3 arose first, followed by gradual functionalization of ORF2. Furthermore, this toxin-antidote system may have promoted the differentiation and/or maintained the genome stability of wild and cultivated rice.
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