Aneuploidy, a deviation from a balanced genome by either gain or loss of chromosomes, is generally associated with impaired fitness and developmental defects in eukaryotic organisms. While the general physiological impact of aneuploidy remains largely elusive, many phenotypes associated with aneuploidy link to a common theme of stress adaptation. Here, we review previously identified mechanisms and observations related to aneuploidy, focusing on the highly diverse eukaryotes, fungi. Fungi, which have conquered virtually all environments, including several hostile ecological niches, exhibit widespread aneuploidy and employ it as an adaptive strategy under severe stress. Gambling with the balance between genome plasticity and stability has its cost and in fact, most aneuploidies have fitness defects. How can this fitness defect be reconciled with the prevalence of aneuploidy in fungi? It is likely that the fitness cost of the extra chromosomes is outweighed by the advantage they confer under life-threatening stresses. In fact, once the selective pressures are withdrawn, aneuploidy is often lost and replaced by less drastic mutations that possibly incur a lower fitness cost. We discuss representative examples across hostile environments, including medically and industrially relevant cases, to highlight potential adaptive mechanisms in aneuploid yeast.
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