Co-option of alternate sperm activation programs in the evolution of self-fertile nematodes

Qing Wei, Yanmei Zhao, Yiqing Guo, Julie Stomel, Ryan Stires, Ronald E. Ellis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Self-fertility evolved independently in three species of Caenorhabditis, yet the underlying genetic changes remain unclear. This transition required that XX animals acquire the ability to produce sperm and then signal those sperm to activate and fertilise oocytes. Here, we show that all genes that regulate sperm activation in C. elegans are conserved throughout the genus, even in male/female species. By using gene editing, we show that C. elegans and C. briggsae hermaphrodites use the SPE-8 tyrosine kinase pathway to activate sperm, whereas C. tropicalis hermaphrodites use a TRY-5 serine protease pathway. Finally, our analysis of double mutants shows that these pathways were redundant in ancestral males. Thus, newly evolving hermaphrodites became self-fertile by co-opting either of the two redundant male programs. The existence of these alternatives helps explain the frequent origin of self-fertility in nematode lineages. This work also demonstrates that the new genome-editing techniques allow unprecedented power and precision in evolutionary studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5888
Pages (from-to)5888
Number of pages1
JournalNature communications
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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