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J Mol Evol. 2014 Jan;78(1):87-99. doi: 10.1007/s00239-013-9602-z. Epub 2013 Nov 27.

Rates of evolution of hominoid seminal proteins are correlated with function and expression, rather than mating system.

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Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.


In species where females mate with multiple males during a single ovulatory cycle, sperm competition is hypothesized to increase the rate of adaptive evolution of proteins expressed in male reproductive tissues through recurrent selective sweeps (positive selection). The hominoids, comprising apes and humans, are a group of closely related primates with extensive variation in mating behaviors and predicted levels of sperm competition. Since previous studies of individual male reproductive genes have shown evidence of positive selection, we estimated rates of evolution of a comprehensive set of proteins expressed in ejaculated semen. Our results show that these proteins in hominoids do not have elevated rates of nonsynonymous substitutions (Ka) compared with a control dataset of nonreproductive genes. Species with greater sperm competition do not have faster rates of seminal protein evolution. Although at these broad levels our hypotheses were not confirmed, further analyses indicate specific patterns of molecular evolution. Namely, the Ka of seminal genes is more strongly correlated with measures of tissue specificity than nonreproductive genes, suggesting that the former may more readily adapt to tissue-specific functions. Proteins expressed from the seminal vesicles evolve more rapidly than those from other male reproductive tissues. Also, several gene ontology categories show elevated rates of protein evolution, not seen in the control data set. While the generalization that male reproductive genes evolve rapidly in hominoids is an oversimplification, a subset of proteins can be identified that are likely targets for adaptive evolution driven by sexual selection.

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