Production of sperm reduces nematode lifespan

Nature. 1992 Dec 3;360(6403):456-8. doi: 10.1038/360456a0.


Sex and death are two fundamental but poorly understood aspects of life. They are often thought to be linked because reproduction requires the diversion of limited resources from somatic growth and maintenance. This diversion of resources in mated animals, often called a cost of reproduction, is usually expressed as a reduction of lifespan in mated animals, although some debate exists on the best way to measure this cost. I report here that in the soil nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, sex significantly decreases male lifespan without reducing hermaphrodite lifespan. The reduction of mated male lifespan seems to be caused by additional sperm production and not by the physical activity of mating. This conclusion is supported by observations that a mutation reducing sperm production increased mean lifespan by about 65% in both mated males and hermaphrodites. This suggests that spermatogenesis, rather than oogenesis or the physical act of mating, is a major factor reducing lifespan in C. elegans. This contradicts the traditional biological assumption that large oocytes are much costlier to produce than small sperm.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / growth & development
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Disorders of Sex Development / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Fertilization
  • Life Expectancy
  • Male
  • Spermatozoa / physiology*