Scientists discover human sperm gene is 600 million years old

Jul 15, 2010

Just as styles in sexy clothes or fashion change from year to year and culture to culture, "sexy" genes, or genes specific to sex, also change rapidly. But there is one sex-specific gene so vital, its function has remained unaltered throughout evolution and is found in almost all animals, according to new research from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The gene, called Boule, is responsible for sperm production. Northwestern scientists also discovered in their research that Boule appears to be the only gene known to be exclusively required for sperm production from an insect to a mammal.

"This is the first clear evidence that suggests our ability to produce sperm is very ancient, probably originating at the dawn of animal 600 million years ago," said Eugene Xu, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Feinberg. "This finding suggests that all animal sperm production likely comes from a common prototype."

Xu is senior author of a paper on the study that will be published July 15 in .

The discovery of Boule's key role in perpetuating animal species offers a better understanding of male , a potential target for a male contraceptive drug and a new direction for future development of pesticides or medicine against infectious parasites or carriers of germs.

"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.

"It's really surprising because sperm production gets pounded by natural selection," he said. "It tends to change due to strong selective pressures for sperm-specific to evolve. There is extra pressure to be a super male to improve . This is the one sex-specific element that didn't change across species. This must be so important that it can't change."

Boule is likely the oldest human sperm-specific gene ever discovered, Xu said. He originally discovered the human gene in 2001.

Prior to the new findings, it was not known whether sperm produced by various animal species came from the same prototype. Birds and insects both fly, for example, but the fly wing and bird wing originated completely independently.

For the study, Xu searched for and discovered the presence of the Boule gene in sperm across different evolutionary lines: human, mammal, fish, insect, worm and marine invertebrate.

In order to search for Boule's presence across the spectrum of evolutionary development, Xu had an interesting shopping list. He needed sperm from a sea urchin, a rooster, a fruit fly, a human and a fish. The fish proved to be the most difficult.

Xu purchased a rainbow trout at a Chicago fish market, unwrapped it and was dismayed to discover it had been gutted. "I need the testicles!" he exclaimed to the seafood salesman. Xu decided he'd have to catch his own. He cast a fishing line into a recreational pond stocked with trout and reeled in a rainbow trout.

Discovery of this common gene involved in sperm production could have many practical uses for human health, including male contraception. When Xu's research group knocked out the Boule gene from a mouse, the animal appeared to be healthy but did not produce sperm.

"A sperm-specific gene like Boule is an ideal target for a male contraceptive drug," Xu noted.

Boule also has the potential to reduce diseases caused by mosquitoes and parasites such as worms.

"We now have one strong candidate to target for controlling their breeding," Xu said. "Our work suggests that disrupting the function of Boule in animals most likely will disrupt their breeding and put the threatening parasites or germs under control. This could represent a new direction in our future development of pesticides or medicine against infectious parasites or carriers of germs."

To further support his hypothesis that Boule is widespread across all animals producing sperm and eggs, Xu also examined the genome of one of the most primitive animals, a sea anemone, for the presence of Boule. He looked at its genome because the of the sea anemone is difficult to find and few labs study the animal. When Xu identified Boule in the sea anemone genome, his theory was clinched.

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User comments : 11

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Shootist
not rated yet Jul 15, 2010
Pretty good considering marine invertebrates didn't appear on the scene until 550My.
Parsec
5 / 5 (4) Jul 15, 2010
There have been fossilized marine invertebrates very recently recovered from 2.1 billion year old ash deposits. These fossils are quite distinct and a few cm long. So really its an open question when the first ones appeared.
El_Nose
not rated yet Jul 15, 2010
yeah -- i agree with parsec - I think our friend that posted initially ment marine vertebrates.

Anyway -- this is all well and good but it sounds like hype for a male contraceptive pill. While that may be all well and good it you are 55 and need to stop producing children, but i won't be first in line for it.
PPihkala
5 / 5 (1) Jul 15, 2010
I think there could also be other problems with using Boule knockout strategy. We all know how female contraceptives end up polluting the waterways, partly because waste water treatment facilities don't remove them before releasing the 'cleaned' water to rivers, lakes and oceans. This might also occur with Boule antagonist, even if it would be used against something else than humans. Good example is DDT. It's use has been banned for years and we continue finding it in environment.
FenderFennec
1 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2010
I think there could also be other problems with using Boule knockout strategy. We all know how female contraceptives end up polluting the waterways, partly because waste water treatment facilities don't remove them before releasing the 'cleaned' water to rivers, lakes and oceans. This might also occur with Boule antagonist, even if it would be used against something else than humans. Good example is DDT. It's use has been banned for years and we continue finding it in environment.


My concern is that a Boule antagonist will attract asteroids to crash into us. Since it doesn't exist yet, maybe someone can make sure the product won't cause such a problem when it is actually created.
neryaudry
Jul 16, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (3) Jul 16, 2010
There's the ever present danger of human beings also using the ability to knock out or stop Boule expression as an act of war - albeit a slow-acting one.
Various target sites can be used and no-one would be the wiser until it's too late.

This is the perenial problem for human-kind: We can invent the most sophisticated technology to do the most complicated things imaginable, BUT we cannot tame the evil inside. For that, there's only one solution. Which of course most people will not accept.

kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (3) Jul 16, 2010
"This is the first clear evidence that suggests our ability to produce sperm is very ancient, probably originating at the dawn of animal evolution 600 million years ago," said Eugene Xu, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Feinberg.

"This finding suggests that all animal sperm production likely comes from a common prototype."


Note that the first quote is a suggestion coupled to an unprovable age of organic lifeforms.

The second quote is much more believable because it relates to the construction of organic life forms in a similar way that software and other engineers [ even genetic engineers!] would re-use a basic, working and proven building block for some more complex system.

So overall there's a coupling of high probability factual information with sheer speculation - thus leading the casual reader to want to concur that some component of sperm is 600 million years old.
This is how reporting works for evolutionary science. Fact+speculation.
tkjtkj
not rated yet Jul 16, 2010
""A sperm-specific gene like Boule is an ideal target for a male contraceptive drug,"

Boule also has the potential to reduce diseases caused by mosquitoes and parasites such as worms."
"We now have one strong candidate to target for controlling their breeding,"


oh oh my!!! NO! Using such a gene to control aNY animal population could very reasonably be expected to put at risk any other, or even all, populations!! We now know that cows fed estrogens have caused that drug to be found everywhere .. The plastic stuff in our food containers is found in nearly everyone in the USA ! Any target that is shared by all animals must NEVER be used in such a way! The consequences could be catastrophic!
It could even, at the limit, cause the end of animal life on our planet, as we know it.

tkjtkj@gmail.com
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (3) Jul 17, 2010
This is how reporting works for evolutionary science. Fact+speculation.
As opposed to the speculation +nonsense that organized religions provide.
trekgeek1
not rated yet Jul 18, 2010
This is how reporting works for evolutionary science. Fact+speculation.
As opposed to the speculation +nonsense that organized religions provide.


I was just on my way to say just about the same thing. Congratulations.


There's the ever present danger of human beings also using the ability to knock out or stop Boule expression as an act of war..


Kicking them in the nuts?
Ethelred
not rated yet Jul 19, 2010
coupled to an unprovable age of organic lifeforms.
You mean not proven to your closed mind. Completely proven to science.
The second quote is much more believable because it relates to the construction of organic life forms in a similar way that software and other engineers
Or due to having a common ancestor as the evidence shows.
So overall there's a coupling of high probability factual information with sheer speculation
Translation - It doesn't fit kevinrtrs's religious beliefs so it must be speculation and not something that fits the megatons of evidence.
This is how reporting works for evolutionary science. Fact+speculation.
This is how Creationists try to distort reality.

Ethelred

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