While mitochondrial mutants of the respiratory machinery are rare and often lethal, cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS), a mitochondrially inherited trait that results in pollen abortion, is frequently encountered in wild populations. It generates a breeding system called gynodioecy. In Beta vulgaris ssp. maritima, a gynodioecious species, we found CMS-G to be widespread across the distribution range of the species. Despite the sequencing of the mitochondrial genome of CMS-G, the mitochondrial sterilizing factor causing CMS-G is still unknown. By characterizing biochemically CMS-G, we found that the expression of several mitochondrial proteins is altered in CMS-G plants. In particular, Cox1, a core subunit of the cytochrome c oxidase (complex IV), is larger but can still assemble into complex IV. However, the CMS-G-specific complex IV was only detected as a stabilized dimer. We did not observe any alteration of the affinity of complex IV for cytochrome c; however, in CMS-G, complex IV capacity is reduced. Our results show that CMS-G is maintained in many natural populations despite being associated with an atypical complex IV. We suggest that the modified complex IV could incur the associated cost predicted by theoretical models to maintain gynodioecy in wild populations.

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