The shape, size, and swimming speed of sperm all depend on one supergene, according to new research with zebra finches.
Previous studies have shown that sperm shape and speed are inherited—fathers with long, fast sperm have sons with long, fast sperm. The question has been: Which genes are responsible for sperm characteristics being passed from one generation to the next?
“Like humans, birds have sex chromosomes; males have two Z chromosomes and females have a Z and a W,” says Jon Slate, animal and plant sciences professor at the University of Sheffield.
“Because males have two copies of the Z chromosome, they can either have two identical (e.g. AA) or two different (e.g. AB) copies of the supergene. The males with two different versions of the supergene have the best sperm with long midpieces, long tails, fast swimming speed, and a higher fertilization success in sperm competition experiments.”
Scientists believe that a better understanding of how the shape of sperm and size influences fertilization success in non-human animals such as the zebra finch could eventually lead to new directions for investigating fertility in people.
[Read the full study here (behind paywall)]
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