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What are the costs (if any) associated with carrying lots of genetic material (Big genome size)?

  • energy for copying?
  • raw material for copying?
  • space in the cell?
  • Maintenance cost (matter and energy)?
  • time to copy is a limiting factor for the minimum generation time?
  • Less robustness?
  • More likely to evolve a gene that spreads well but has a negative fitness impact on the rest of the genome (selfish gene or outlaw)?

The answer probably depends on the organism. I am interested about any information concerning uni- or multi-cellular eukaryotes, bacteria or viruses.

Do we have any knowledge about how important are these costs or is it pure guesses?

This post comes in reaction to @AlanBoyd comments on this post.

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It may also have negative effects due to mutations in genes which are not really needed but develop a negative effect. – Chris Apr 14 '14 at 20:41
What would be the cost of cleaning up this material? – oɔɯǝɹ Apr 18 '14 at 21:02
What do you mean "cleaning up this material"? – Remi.b Apr 19 '14 at 16:18
Related question:… – Oreotrephes Apr 22 '14 at 15:16

It is generally known that the smaller (or less complex) an organism is, the more "condensed" it's genome is. For example, bacteria (or some eukaryotes) have operons ( or overlapping genes using different and they don't have introns, which alltogether saves a lot of space.

There are many reasons for that. Available space in the cell is definitely not one if it, however. Energy for copying and maintenance is a good point, but you have to keep in mind how evolution works. Bacteria and unicellular eukaryotes are usually adapted to a very specific environment in which they can reproduce rapidly. This means, they only need a small set of genes, specific for this environment and they have to reproduce very frequent, which means they are very prone to mistakes during DNA-copying. Such a mistake can lead to the death of the cell, which in this case equals the death of the organism.

In higher organisms however, the advantages of a bigger genome outweigh the disadvantages by far. Evolution can happen much faster because and mistake while copying does not necessarily lead to the death of the whole organism. Adaptation to a much greater variety of conditions is also necessary, e.g. when you look at plants: Their genomes are (on avarage) much bigger than the ones we mammals have, because they cannot move if the conditions around them become unpleasent. Instead, they need to find a way to adapt. This means, a big genome is in this case a fitness bonus. More interestingly, plant genoms are highly mutable (, which was originally thought to be a huge disadvantage.

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Plants also often carry a lot more copies of their chromosomes than animals, I've heard of plants with 8 copies of each chromosome, creates a lot of opportunity to carry multiple alleles for a gene and use whatever works best for the current situation. – user137 Aug 20 '14 at 23:48

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