In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Evolution of Reproductive Proteins

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Quantifying Rates of Evolution and Testing Hypotheses
  • History
  • Functional Characterization of Reproductive Proteins
  • Gene Duplication
  • Other Factors
  • Mating Types and Evolutionary Rates
  • The Evolution of Reproductive Proteins and Speciation

Evolutionary Biology Evolution of Reproductive Proteins
Alberto Civetta
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 September 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199941728-0082


Evolutionary geneticists have long been interested in the identification of variation at the molecular level, as evolution itself requires the existence of heritable differences among organisms. Thus, detecting gene variants and measuring differences in rates of change among such variants have been important subjects of study among evolutionary geneticists. Reproduction is also a topical subject in evolutionary biology because fitness is a function of reproductive success. Moreover, limitations in gene flow imposed by either premating or postmating reproductive barriers are major contributors to the evolution of new species. Since the early 1980s the study of the evolution of reproductive proteins in a wide variety of taxa has revealed them to be among the most rapidly evolving genes. This observation has led researchers to test different alternative hypotheses that can explain this rapid rate of evolution.

General Overviews

Several comprehensive reviews have been written on the evolution of reproductive proteins. For example, Civetta and Singh 1999; Swanson and Vacquier 2002; Civetta 2003; Clark, et al. 2006; Panhuis, et al. 2006; and Turner and Hoekstra 2008 document a common pattern of rapid evolution of reproductive proteins across a wide variety of taxa. These articles also discuss alternative hypotheses to explain rapid evolution of reproduction genes. An excellent collection of chapters on the general topic of rapidly evolving genes, including chapters that specifically deal with genes that encode reproductive proteins, can be found in Singh, et al. 2012.

  • Civetta, Alberto. 2003. Shall we dance or shall we fight? Using DNA sequence data to untangle controversies surrounding sexual selection. Genome 46:925–929.

    DOI: 10.1139/g03-109

    Summarizes examples of rapid evolution of male reproductive proteins with a focus on those driven by positive selection and provides framework as to how the combined analysis of male reproductive proteins and female receptors could shed light on how sexual selection might have influenced observed patterns of evolution.

  • Civetta, Alberto, and Rama S. Singh. 1999. Broad-sense sexual selection, sex gene pool evolution, and speciation. Genome 42:1033–1041.

    DOI: 10.1139/g99-086

    A review that presents evidence of rapid evolution of sex-related genes from a wide variety of organisms. The article introduces the hypothesis that rapid evolution might be driven by a broad form of sexual selection acting upon all components of sexuality and not simply those related to courtship or mating.

  • Clark, Nathaniel L., Jan E. Aagaard, and Willie J. Swanson. 2006. Evolution of reproductive proteins from animals and plants. Reproduction 131:11–22.

    DOI: 10.1530/rep.1.00357

    Provides an excellent comparison of patterns of rapid evolution of reproductive proteins in animals and plants and speculates on how selective forces might have shaped such patterns.

  • Panhuis, Tami M., Nathaniel L. Clark, and Willie J. Swanson. 2006. Rapid evolution of reproductive proteins in abalone and Drosophila. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 361:261–268.

    DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2005.1793

    A review of abalone sperm-egg and Drosophila male accessory gland proteins evolution. The authors favor sexual conflict as a likely explanation for rapid evolution although for most examples the evidence (adaptive evolution) is limited and can fit other forms of sexual selection without the need to invoke male-female conflict.

  • Singh, Rama S., Jianping Xu, and Rob J. Kulathinal, eds. 2012. Rapidly evolving genes and genetic systems. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Provides a collection of chapters divided into five sections discussing different aspects of rapid evolutionary change with examples of rapidly evolving genes and genetic systems including, but not limited to, those related to reproduction.

  • Swanson, Willie J., and Victor D. Vacquier. 2002. The rapid evolution of reproductive proteins. Nature Reviews Genetics 3:137–144.

    DOI: 10.1038/nrg733

    A widely cited review article that provides examples from a wide variety of taxa on rapid evolution of reproductive proteins and the potential role of sexual selection.

  • Turner, Leslie M., and Hopi E. Hoekstra. 2008. Causes and consequences of the evolution of reproductive proteins. International Journal of Developmental Biology 52:769–780.

    DOI: 10.1387/ijdb.082577lt

    Discusses a common pattern of rapid evolution of reproductive proteins. The authors make a case for evolutionary biologists to incorporate gene manipulation techniques in order to determine the functional consequences of inferred selective changes during the evolutionary history of reproductive proteins.

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