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J Mol Evol. 2003 Sep;57(3):261-70.

Evolution of the hominoid semenogelin genes, the major proteins of ejaculated semen.

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Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, 1101 East 57th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


The hominoid primates (apes and humans) exhibit remarkable diversity in their social and sexual behavioral systems. This is reflected in many ways in their anatomy and physiology. For example, the testes and seminal vesicles are relatively large in species with high sperm competition like the chimpanzee and small in species with low or no sperm competition like the gorilla. Additionally, the chimpanzee is the only hominoid primate known to produce a firm copulatory plug, which presumably functions in sperm competition by blocking insemination of subsequent males. Here we examine the molecular evolution of the semenogelin genes (SEMG1 and SEMG2), which code for the predominant structural proteins in human semen. High molecular weight complexes of these proteins are responsible for the viscous gelatinous consistency of human semen; their rodent homologs are responsible for the formation of a firm copulatory plug. Chimpanzees have an expanded SEMG1 gene caused by duplications of tandem repeats, each encoding 60 amino acids, resulting in a protein nearly twice as long as that of humans. In contrast, at both SEMG1 and SEMG2 we observed several gorilla haplotypes that contain at least one premature stop codon. We suggest that these structural changes in the semenogelin proteins that have arisen since the human-chimpanzee-gorilla split may be responsible for the physiological differences between these species ejaculated semen that correlate with their sociosexual behavior.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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