Humans, Fish, & Flies Share a 600-Million-Year-Old Sperm Gene

By Andrew Moseman | July 16, 2010 3:48 pm

sperm220Dear male reader: Just so you know, your sperm isn’t that different from a sea anemone’s.

Sperm is so vital, a new study in PLoS Genetics found, that one of the genes responsible for it hasn’t changed in 600 million years. Insects, humans, marine invertebrates, other mammals, even fish—the males of all these creatures share a common sperm gene that dates back to before all those animals diverged all those millions of years ago, according to the team led by Eugene Xu.

From an evolutionary point of view, that longevity is simply stunning.

“It’s really surprising because sperm production gets pounded by natural selection,” Xu said. “It tends to change due to strong selective pressures for sperm-specific genes to evolve. There is extra pressure to be a super male to improve reproductive success. This is the one sex-specific element that didn’t change across species. This must be so important that it can’t change” [MSNBC].

The gene in question in called BOULE. Xu and colleagues went hunting for versions of it in all those creatures listed above, trying to find out whether sperm evolved multiple times, or rather arose once in a long-ago ancestor. When they found some form of the gene in all of them, even sea anemones, they had their answer.

Next, the researchers tested mice to be sure the gene was in charge of just sperm production, not more general cell processes. Sure enough, the protein encoded by the gene was found only in mouse testes. And if the BOULE gene was disrupted, otherwise healthy mice didn’t produce sperm [Science News].

That part of the find could be crucial; beyond explaining how our “sex-specific elements” evolved, it could have practical applications, too.

BOULE is the only gene known to function only for the production of sperm, said Xu. This makes it an ideal target for designing a male contraceptive drug or agents that halt the reproduction of infectious parasites or the carriers of germs, he said, because knocking it out wouldn’t harm other bodily processes [Wired.com].

Related Content:
80beats: New Contraceptive Wins Gates Money: Blasting Testicles with Ultrasound
80beats: Revealed: The Secret of the Sperm’s Wild Dash to the Egg
Discoblog: Warning All Male Competitive Cyclists: Less Than 5% of Your Sperm May Be Normal

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins, Living World
  • YouRang

    You wrote:Insects, humans, marine invertebrates, other mammals, even fish…
    You mean Humans, fish, marine invertebrates, even flies…

  • Doug

    We may wish to be careful developing agents that can knock out that gene since it is vital to the life cycle of so many species including ours. Wouldn’t we want to find species specific genes to target?

  • Blankman

    What the F__ck happens when the spermicide hits the water table? It’s like ebola for all species, with a generational delay.

  • reallest

    sequence divergence. This is what they are not mentioning in story. THe so called boule gene is not exactly the same for any species. The gene differs slightly from species to species, making it not the same in my opinion. Furthermore, boule is a DNA sequence. The sequence from species to species is different. The gene sequence is close enough to allow human boule to function inside of a fly. This mimmicing effect of the boule does not however indicate a common line of evolution. Consider another case in nature. Humans have cannibinoid receptors in our brains. For many years science believed that marijuana and synthetic thc were the only chemicals capable of fitting in cannabinoid receptors, leaving us to wonder if we are to deigned to get stoned. This idea has recently been diminished due cannabinoid like chemicals, that will fit into human receptors, being discovered in sea urchins, a completley unrelated organism. This story was good science with a very poor conclusion.

  • Larry Gillihan

    Humans and animals having similar construction does not mean one “evolved” from the other. It means when you get a good design, you stick with it.
    The “cannabinoid receptors” in the brain show that marijuana was made for a medicine. Used properly, it is the best stress and anxiety reliever there is. The 17 billion dollars a year the drug companies make off the stress and anxiety reliever market would be far less if people could grow their own, and the drug companies would lose a lot of profit. That’s why the federal government is fighting it so hard.

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