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J Mol Evol. 2005 Nov;61(5):650-8. Epub 2005 Oct 20.

Sex-specific functional specialization and the evolutionary rates of essential fertility genes.

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  • 1Department of Biology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 1J4, Canada. dt224@cornell.edu


Genes related to sex and reproduction are known to evolve rapidly, however, the mechanism for rapid evolutionary change is proving to be more complex than a simple relaxation of selective constraint. We compared the divergence between orthologous human and mouse fertility genes according to their degree of dispensability as suggested by mouse knockout mutation phenotypes. The dataset consisted of 161 orthologous genes affecting fertility and 803 orthologous genes affecting viability. We find that essential fertility genes affecting both sexes evolve at a similar rate as essential viability genes, but that within sexes the degree of dispensability is not an important factor affecting the rate of fertility gene evolution. We also find no difference in the evolutionary rates of fertility genes that affect the male versus the female, however, there are a greater number of sterility genes that affect the male. Generally there are a significantly greater number of fertility genes that affect one sex rather than both, suggesting that fertility genes tend toward sex-specific functions, particularly in the male. Our findings support the hypothesis that the rapid evolution of sex- and reproduction-related genes is facilitated through an increased specialization of gene function and that dispensability is not a major factor determining their evolutionary rate.

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