Research Article

Rapid genome shrinkage in a self-fertile nematode reveals sperm competition proteins

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Science  05 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6371, pp. 55-61
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao0827

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Examining the consequences of selfing

The Caenorhabditis genus of nematodes includes a mix of closely related outcrossing and self-fertilizing (selfing) species. Genome size differs widely among these different species. Yin et al. generated a genome assembly for the outcrossing nematode C. nigoni and compared it with that of its close relative, the selfing C. briggsae. C. briggsae has experienced a substantial decrease in genome size since the two species' recent divergence. The underlying causes of this size difference appear to involve a decrease in protein-coding genes and changes in other types of sequences that have homology with RNAs expressed primarily in C. nigoni males. One of the implicated gene families, the mss family, compromises sperm competitiveness. Thus, in nematodes, selfing appears to result in a decrease in genome size owing to selection to reduce male reproductive function.

Science, this issue p. 55


To reveal impacts of sexual mode on genome content, we compared chromosome-scale assemblies of the outcrossing nematode Caenorhabditis nigoni to its self-fertile sibling species, C. briggsae. C. nigoni’s genome resembles that of outcrossing relatives but encodes 31% more protein-coding genes than C. briggsae. C. nigoni genes lacking C. briggsae orthologs were disproportionately small and male-biased in expression. These include the male secreted short (mss) gene family, which encodes sperm surface glycoproteins conserved only in outcrossing species. Sperm from mss-null males of outcrossing C. remanei failed to compete with wild-type sperm, despite normal fertility in noncompetitive mating. Restoring mss to C. briggsae males was sufficient to enhance sperm competitiveness. Thus, sex has a pervasive influence on genome content that can be used to identify sperm competition factors.

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