Major histocompatibility complex and sexual selection  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The major histocompatibility complex in sexual selection concerns how major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules allow for immune system surveillance of the population of protein molecules in a host's cells. In 1976, Yamazaki et al. demonstrated a sexual selection mate choice by male mice for females of a different MHC.

Major histocompatibility complex genes, which control the immune response and effective resistance against pathogens, have been able to maintain an extremely high level of allelic diversity throughout time and throughout different populations. Studies suggest that the MHC is involved in mate choice for many vertebrates through olfactory cues. There are several proposed hypotheses that address how MHC-associated mating preferences could be adaptive and how the MHC has maintained its enormous allelic diversity.

The vast source of genetic variation affecting an organism's fitness stems from the co-evolutionary arms race between hosts and parasites. There are two nonmutually exclusive hypotheses for explaining this. One is that there is selection for the maintenance of a highly diverse set of MHC genes if MHC heterozygotes are more resistant to parasites than homozygotes—this is called heterozygote advantage. The second is that there is selection that undergoes a frequency-dependent cycle—and is called the Red Queen hypothesis.

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