Sexy genes by Boule


Adaptation leads to change and human evolution is full of adaptation. Our bodies and genes are constantly evolving. However unlikely, scientists have discovered one sex-specific gene whose function has remained unchanged throughout evolution and is found in almost all animals. It is believed to be 600 million years old and it has a name: Boule.

Research revealing Boule’s widespread presence in the animal kingdom comes from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, led by Eugene Xu, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and is published in PLoS Genetics.

Boule is extremely powerful. It is the only gene known to be exclusively required for sperm production in every animal tested so far from sea anemones to mammals. “Our findings also show that humans, despite how complex we are, across the evolutionary lines all the way to flies, which are very simple, still have one fundamental element that’s shared,” Xu said.

Prior to these findings, it wasn’t known if sperm evolved independently within animal kingdoms, the way flight for birds and insects did, or whether there was a shared genetic history. Without a doubt, the genetic history is shared and must date back to the dawn of animal evolution some 600 million years ago. Could it be that Mother Nature got something perfectly right, right at the very beginning?

“It’s really surprising because sperm production gets pounded by natural selection,” Xu continued. “It tends to change due to strong selective pressures for sperm-specific genes to evolve. There is extra pressure to be a super male to improve reproductive success. This is the one sex-specific element that didn’t change across species. This must be so important it can’t change.” In fact, when Xu’s team removed Boule from a mouse, the mouse appeared normal but produced no sperm.

With this new knowledge, reliable male contraception - human and nonhuman - can be developed. Pesticides and animal population control may be possible reducing diseases caused by parasites, worms and mosquitoes. This really could be a peek into a new kind of population control, brave new world indeed.

Source: Northwestern University, PLoS Genetics, ScienceDaily


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