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Molecular Evolution of Mammalian Genes with Epistatic Interactions in Fertilization

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BackgroundGenes that encode proteins associated with sperm competition, fertilization, and sexual conflicts of interest are often among the most rapidly evolving parts of animal genomes. One family of sperm-expressed genes (Zp3r, C4bpa) in the mammalian gene cluster called the regulator of complement activation (RCA) encodes proteins that bind eggs and mediate reproductive success, and are therefore expected to show high relative rates of nonsynonymous nucleotide substitution in response to sexual selection in comparison to other genes not involved in gamete binding at fertilization. We tested that working hypothesis by using phylogenetic models of codon evolution to identify episodes of diversifying positive selection. We used a comparative approach to quantify the evidence for episodic diversifying selection acting on RCA genes with known functions in fertilization (and sensitivity to sexual selection), and contrast them with other RCA genes in the same gene family that function in innate immunity (and are not sensitive to sexual selection).ResultsWe expected but did not find evidence for more episodes of positive selection on Zp3r in Glires (the rodents and lagomorphs) or on C4BPA in Primates, in comparison to other paralogous RCA genes in the same taxon, or in comparison to the same orthologous RCA gene in the other taxon. That result was not unique to RCA genes: we also found little evidence for more episodes of diversifying selection on genes that encode selective sperm-binding molecules in the egg coat or zona pellucida (Zp2, Zp3) in comparison to members of the same gene family that encode structural elements of the egg coat (Zp1, Zp4). Similarly, we found little evidence for episodic diversifying selection acting on two other recently discovered genes (Juno, Izumo1) that encode essential molecules for sperm–egg fusion.ConclusionsThese negative results help to illustrate the importance of a comparative context for this type of codon model analysis. The results may also point to other phylogenetic contexts in which the effects of selection acting on these fertilization proteins might be more readily discovered and documented in mammals and other taxa.
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C. Morgan, Claire & W. Hart, Michael. (2019). Molecular evolution of mammalian genes with epistatic interactions in fertilization. BMC Evolutionary Biology. 19. DOI: 10.1186/s12862-019-1480-6.
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BMC Evolutionary Biology
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Molecular Evolution of Mammalian Genes with Epistatic Interactions in Fertilization
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