Many multicellular organisms have evolved a dedicated germline. This can benefit the whole organism, but its advantages to genetic parasites have not been explored. Here I model the evolutionary success of a selfish element, such as a transposable element or endosymbiont, which is capable of creating or strengthening a germline-soma distinction in a primitively multicellular host, and find that it will always benefit the element to do so. Genes causing germline sequestration can therefore spread in a population even if germline sequestration is maladaptive for the host organism. Costly selfish elements are expected to survive only in sexual populations, so sexual species may experience an additional push toward germline-soma distinction, and hence toward cell differentiation and multicellularity.
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Vol. 62 • No. 8