Simple reason helps males evolve more quickly

Nov 14, 2007

The observation that males evolve more quickly than females has been around since 19th century biologist Charles Darwin noted the majesty of a peacock’s tail feather in comparison with the plainness of the peahen’s.

No matter the species, males apparently ramp up flashier features and more melodious warbles in an eternal competition to win the best mates, a concept known as sexual selection.

Why males are in evolutionary overdrive even though they have essentially the same genes as females has been a mystery, but an explanation by University of Florida Genetics Institute researchers to appear online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week may shed light on the subject.

“It’s because males are simpler,” said Marta Wayne, an associate professor of zoology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of UF’s Graduate Program in Genetics and Genomics. “The mode of inheritance in males involves simpler genetic architecture that does not include as many interactions between genes as could be involved in female inheritance.”

The finding may also be useful to scientists studying why diseases may present themselves or respond to treatment differently in men and women.

Researchers examined how gene expression is inherited differently in male and female fruit flies using microarray analysis, which is a way to monitor the activity of thousands of genes simultaneously. The flies were identical genetically, except that females have two X chromosomes and males have a single X and a single Y chromosome.

It turns out that the extra X in females may make answering the call of selection more complicated.

In flies or humans, sex cells from a mother and a father combine to make what eventually becomes an embryo. Females are equipped with two versions of X-linked genes that interact not only with each other, but also with other genes. Males have only one version of the X chromosome, making for fewer interactions and more straightforward male inheritance, especially since the male’s Y chromosome contains very few genes.

“In females, a dominant allele can hide the presence of a recessive allele,” said Lauren McIntyre, an associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology in UF’s College of Medicine. “In contrast to females, which have two X chromosomes, one inherited from each parent, males have only one X inherited only from their mother. This is a simple mechanism that could be working in cooperation with sexual selection to help males evolve more quickly.”

Researchers believe this relatively uncomplicated genetic pathway helps males respond to the pressures of sexual selection, ultimately enabling them to win females and produce greater numbers of offspring.

Relationships between gene expression and modes of inheritance have been addressed before, but this study analyzed an extremely large data set that involved most of the genes in the fruit fly genome, said David Rand, a professor of biology at Brown University who was not involved in the study.

“This research shows how recessive and dominant traits are important in determining variation in populations,” Rand said. “The best way to think of it is males play with one card, but females get to play one and hold one. If males have got a good trait, it’s promoted; something bad, it’s eliminated. In females you can have a bad card, but a good card can protect it. As a result, females can carry deleterious traits but not express them.”

UF scientists analyzed 8,607 genes that are shared by both sexes of a fruit fly called Drosophila melanogaster. Of those genes, 7,617 are expressed differently -- meaning the same genes do different things -- in males and females.

Over the years, fruit fly research has helped scientists understand the role of genes in diseases, development, population genetics, cell biology, neurobiology, behavior and evolution. Humans share more than 65 percent of their genes with the fruit fly, including many implicated in certain cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.

The finding helps explain fundamental processes that may factor into why men and women may show different symptoms or respond differently to diseases.

“There’s a health aspect in figuring out differences in gene expression between the sexes,” said Wayne. “To make a male or a female, even in a fly, it’s all about turning things on -- either in different places or different amounts or at different times -- because we all basically have the same starting set of genes.”

Source: University of Florida

Explore further: Study on pesticides in lab rat feed causes a stir

Related Stories

Vagrant bachelors could save rare bird

Jun 16, 2015

A study conducted by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has revealed the importance of single males in small, threatened populations. Results from a study of endangered New Zealand hihi birds (Notiomystis ci ...

Why we still collect butterflies

Jun 11, 2015

Who doesn't love butterflies? While most people won't think twice about destroying a wasp nest on the side of the house, spraying a swarm of ants in the driveway, or zapping pesky flies at an outdoor barbecue, ...

Extra DNA creates cucumber with all female flowers

Jun 04, 2015

Ask a plant researcher how the sex of a cucumber plant is determined and the person will tell you, "It's complicated." Depending on a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors, cucumbers can be seven ...

Recommended for you

Study on pesticides in lab rat feed causes a stir

58 minutes ago

French scientists published evidence Thursday of pesticide contamination of lab rat feed which they said discredited historic toxicity studies, though commentators questioned the analysis.

Why the seahorse's tail is square

1 hour ago

Why is the seahorse's tail square? An international team of researchers has found the answer and it could lead to building better robots and medical devices. In a nutshell, a tail made of square, overlapping ...

New technique maps elusive chemical markers on proteins

3 hours ago

Unveiling how the 20,000 or so proteins in the human body work—and malfunction—is the key to understanding much of health and disease. Now, Salk researchers developed a new technique that allows scientists ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

SDMike
3.5 / 5 (2) Nov 14, 2007
It also explains why male IQ distributions are wide and female IQ distributions are narrow and peaked.
A fact explained in Intro Psych books for the past twenty years.
bigwheel
1.7 / 5 (6) Nov 14, 2007
Coming from people who think they came from monkeys. Got to
be a bucket of wisdom in their theories.
ryuuguu
4 / 5 (1) Nov 15, 2007
Not very well researched article. It uses bird as it first example of faster male evolution, then says it is because males are XY instead of XX. But in birds it is males that ZZ and females are ZW so in bird by this reasoning females should evolve faster.

I think the showier male eveolution is because in many species the breeding is much more skewed for males. ie. in many species most males have no offspring and a few percent have 90% of the offspring. So being an average or just above male in those species is not much better than being a sickly male, but being a really good male is great.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.