Can Genes Influence Human Fertility?

By Pdeitiker (talk · contribs) (Wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific researchers from the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB), have discovered that differences in the egg-coat and sperm expressions in genes can influence fertility in diverse organisms, from mice to humans. In each separate organism, natural selection is acting on certain genetic aspects of the fertilization process, and some pairs of individuals are more likely to be able to successfully conceive than others

The Stud

The SICBs interests in the genetics of reproduction have mostly focused on sea stars and sea urchins. The foundations leading doctor wanted to find out how one species of sea animal splits and becomes two. In a recent project working on these invertebrates, the doctor and his team discovered a surprising new piece of information in this evolutionary conundrum, the fertility rate of mated sea stars depends on what types of reproductive genes may successfully produce offspring.
Sea stars with other combinations of gene pairs failed to mate and reproduce.

To the team, this finding suggested that over time, species experiencing genetic incompatibility could cause populations of sea stars to diminish and to separate and become different species. However, it also has bigger implications regarding fertility, and they wondered if researchers in the field of fertilization biology and population genetics had seen similar evidence for certain combinations of genes in other studies.

Surprisingly, in humans and mice, researchers had been examining two types of genes: genes expressed in the mammalian egg coating and the genes expressed in sperm. In humans, the team worked on three specific genes: ZP2, ZP3 and C4BPA. ZP2 and ZP3 are named for the zona pellucida, which is the egg coating. C4BPA, is responsible for making the sperm protein that binds to the egg.

In 2010, Dr. Rori Rohlfs, who works for the University of California at Berkley, found that different types of ZP3 happen along with certain forms of the C4BPA gene more often than what would be expected. These associations between genes located on different chromosomes, are rare in nature and typically happen when the genes involved do something beneficial for the organism. From the perspective of evolution, perhaps no function is more imperative than the ability to mate and reproduce.

The SICB team was fascinated by Dr. Rohlf’s findings and decided to set out to follow up on her work. The most recent finding of the team which hinted at something amazing in regards to human evolution, confounded them.

The slow march towards species divergence is the hallmark of evolution. Yet, the team’s evidence points to the exact opposite process in humans. The team reports “Human populations are not evolving to become reproductively isolated from each other.”


Human mates are usually selected through behavioral interaction, be it in a social setting, at work or in some other venue. The team’s current research prompts us to think about how natural selection influences the evolution of the human species, perhaps as much as the level of invisible molecules as the level of attributes one can witness.


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