Clustered organization of reproductive genes in the C. elegans genome

Curr Biol. 2004 Jul 27;14(14):1284-90. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2004.07.025.


Defining the forces that sculpt genome organization is fundamental for understanding the origin, persistence, and diversification of species. The genomic sequences of the nematodes Caenorhabditis elegans and Caenorhabditis briggsae provide an excellent opportunity to explore the dynamics of chromosome evolution. Extensive chromosomal rearrangement has accompanied divergence from their common ancestor, an event occurring roughly 100 million years ago (Mya); yet, morphologically, these species are nearly indistinguishable and both reproduce primarily by self-fertilization. Here, we show that genes expressed during spermatogenesis (sperm genes) are nonrandomly distributed across the C. elegans genome into three large clusters located on two autosomes. In addition to sperm genes, these chromosomal regions are enriched for genes involved in the hermaphrodite sperm/oocyte switch and in the reception of sperm signals that control fertilization. Most loci are present in single copy, suggesting that cluster formation is largely due to gene aggregation and not to tandem duplication. Comparative mapping indicates that the C. briggsae genome differs dramatically from the C. elegans genome in clustering. Because clustered genes have a direct role in reproduction and thus fitness, their aggregated pattern might have been shaped by natural selection, perhaps as hermaphroditism evolved.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Chromosomes / genetics*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Disorders of Sex Development
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Order / genetics*
  • Genome*
  • Male
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Phenotype*
  • Phylogeny
  • Reproduction / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Spermatogenesis / genetics
  • Spermatozoa / chemistry