Research sheds light on benefits of multiple mates

November 20, 2008

New research could explain why females of many species have multiple partners. Published on Friday 21 November 2008 in leading journal Science, the study was carried out by a team from the Universities of Exeter (UK), Okayama (Japan) and Liverpool (UK).

Females of most species, including many mammals, mate with multiple partners. The driving forces for this practice, known as 'polyandry', have been a mystery for evolutionary biologists for decades. This research suggests that polyandry could be the result of females adapting to avoid producing offspring carrying selfish genetic elements that reduce male fertility.

The research team based the study on the fruitfly Drosophila pseudoobscura, which they bred over ten generations. Some males of this species carry a 'selfish gene' on their X chromosome that causes sperm carrying the Y-chromosome to fail. This means that males carrying this gene can only produce daughters, all of which carry the sperm damaging gene.

In this study females evolved to mate with more partners when they were exposed to males carrying this selfish gene. There was no way for the females to tell whether or not a potential mate carried the gene, but they evolved to re-mate more quickly. After ten generations, they re-mated after an average of 2.75 days, compared with 3.25 days among the original population. By mating more frequently, females ensure sperm from different males compete. This competition favours males without the sperm-damaging selfish genes, allowing females to bias paternity against these males.

Corresponding author Dr Nina Wedell of the University of Exeter said: "Multiple mating by females has puzzled biologists for decades. It's more risky and costs precious time and energy for females. Our study suggests that these significant costs are worthwhile because the female increases her chances of producing healthy offspring of both sexes that do not carry the selfish gene."

Selfish genes occur at random as a result of mutations. They spread quickly through populations because they subvert normal patterns of inheritance, increasing their presence in the next generation.

The researchers believe the findings have relevance for a range of species with polyandrous females, including some primates. Dr Nina Wedell explains: "Selfish genetic elements exist in all living organisms and many compromise male fertility. Our study could provide a new explanation for why polyandry is so remarkably widespread."

At this stage the researchers do not know what implications these findings might have for understanding human reproduction. However, it is possible that some types of male fertility disorder are caused by the manipulation of selfish genes.
-end-
This study was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

University of Exeter

Related Sperm Articles from Brightsurf:

Nut consumption causes changes in sperm DNA function
Researchers have evaluated for the first time the effect of a short/middle-term consumption of a mixture of tree nuts (almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts) on sperm DNA methylation patterns in healthy individuals reporting eating a Western-style diet.

Collecting sperm from Covid-19 patients
How does Covid-19 affect sperm and thus the next generation┬┤s immune system?

Paleontology -- The oldest known sperm cells
An international team of paleontologists has discovered giant sperm cells in a 100-million year-old female ostracod preserved in a sample of amber.

Research captures how human sperm swim in 3D
Using state-of-the-art 3D microscopy and mathematics, Dr Hermes Gadêlha from the University of Bristol, Dr Gabriel Corkidi and Dr Alberto Darszon from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, have reconstructed the movement of the sperm tail in 3D with high-precision.

Overweight and obesity are associated with a low sperm quality
Researchers from the Rovira i Virgili University in collaboration with researchers from the University of Utah have carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis evaluating the association between adiposity (normal weight, overweight, obesity, and low weight) and the sperm quality.

Diet has rapid effects on sperm quality
Sperm are influenced by diet, and the effects arise rapidly.

Sperm may offer the uterus a 'secret handshake'
Why does it take 200 million sperm to fertilize a single egg?

Long duration of sperm freezing makes no difference to live birth rates in large sperm bank study
Despite a time limit imposed in many countries on the freeze-storage of sperm, a new study from China has found that the long-term cryopreservation of semen in a sperm bank does not affect future clinical outcomes.

An important function of non-nucleated sperm
Some animals form characteristic infertile spermatozoa called parasperm, which differ in size and shape compared to fertile sperm produced by single males.

DNA of sperm taken from testicles of infertile men 'as good as sperm from fertile men'
Scientists have found that sperm DNA from the testicles of many infertile men is as good as that of ejaculated sperm of fertile men.

Read More: Sperm News and Sperm Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.