The hermaphrodite Caenorhabditis elegans germline has become a classic model for stem cell regulation, but the male C. elegans germline has been largely neglected. This work provides a cellular analysis of the adult C. elegans male germline, focusing on its predicted stem cell region in the distal gonad. The goals of this study were two-fold: to establish the C. elegans male germline as a stem cell model and to identify sex-specific traits of potential relevance to the sperm/oocyte decision. Our results support two major conclusions. First, adult males do indeed possess a population of germline stem cells (GSCs) with properties similar to those of hermaphrodite GSCs (lack of cell cycle quiescence and lack of reproducibly oriented divisions). Second, germ cells in the mitotic region, including those most distal within the niche, exhibit sex-specific behaviors (e.g. cell cycle length) and therefore have acquired sexual identity. Previous studies demonstrated that some germ cells are not committed to a sperm or oocyte cell fate, even in adults. We propose that germ cells can acquire sexual identity without being committed to a sperm or oocyte cell fate.
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