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Mol Biol Evol. 2002 Nov;19(11):1973-80.

Mammalian sperm proteins are rapidly evolving: evidence of positive selection in functionally diverse genes.

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  • 1Department of Biology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. torgerdg@mcmaster.ca


A growing number of genes involved in sex and reproduction have been demonstrated to be rapidly evolving. Here, we show that genes expressed solely in spermatozoa represent a highly diverged subset among mouse and human tissue-specific orthologs. The average rate of nonsynonymous substitutions per site (K(a)) is significantly higher in sperm proteins (mean K(a) = 0.18; N = 35) than in proteins expressed specifically in all other tissues (mean K(a) = 0.074; N = 473). No differences, however, are found in the synonymous substitution rate (K(s)) between tissues, suggesting that selective forces, and not mutation rate, explain the high rate of replacement substitutions in sperm proteins. Four out of 19 sperm-specific genes with characterized function demonstrated evidence of strong positive Darwinian selection, including a protein involved in gene regulation, Protamine-1 (PRM1), a protein involved in glycolysis, GAPDS, and two egg-binding proteins, Adam-2 precursor (ADAM2) and sperm-adhesion molecule-1 (SAM1). These results demonstrate the rapid evolution of sperm-specific genes and highlight the molecular action of sexual selection on a variety of characters involved in mammalian sperm function.

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