Rapid changes in sexual traits are ubiquitous in evolution. To analyze this phenomenon, we are studying species of the genus Caenorhabditis. These animals use one of two different mating systems - male/hermaphroditic, like the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, or male/female, like C. remanei. Since hermaphrodites are essentially females that produce sperm for self-fertilization, elucidating the control of cell fate in the germ line in each species could provide the key to understanding how these mating systems evolved. In C. elegans, FOG-3 is required to specify that germ cells become sperm. Thus, we cloned its homologs from both C. remanei and C. briggsae. Each species produces a single homolog of FOG-3, and RNA-mediated interference indicates that FOG-3 functions in each species to specify that germ cells develop as sperm rather than as oocytes. What factors account for the different mating systems? Northern analyses and RT-PCR data reveal that the expression of fog-3 is always correlated with spermatogenesis. Since the promoters for all three fog-3 genes contain binding sites for the transcription factor TRA-1A and are capable of driving expression of fog-3 in C. elegans hermaphrodites, we propose that alterations in the upstream sex-determination pathway, perhaps acting through TRA-1A, allow spermatogenesis in C. elegans and C. briggsae XX larvae but not in C. remanei.
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|Published - Sep 5 2001
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