Background: Hybrid male sterility (HMS) is a usual outcome of hybridization between closely related animal species. It arises because interactions between alleles that are functional within one species may be disrupted in hybrids. The identification of genes leading to hybrid sterility is of great interest for understanding the evolutionary process of speciation. In the current work we used marked P-element insertions as dominant markers to efficiently locate one genetic factor causing a severe reduction in fertility in hybrid males of Drosophila simulans and D. mauritiana.
Results: Our mapping effort identified a region of 9 kb on chromosome 3, containing three complete and one partial coding sequences. Within this region, two annotated genes are suggested as candidates for the HMS factor, based on the comparative molecular characterization and public-source information. Gene Taf1 is partially contained in the region, but yet shows high polymorphism with four fixed non-synonymous substitutions between the two species. Its molecular functions involve sequence-specific DNA binding and transcription factor activity. Gene agt is a small, intronless gene, whose molecular function is annotated as methylated-DNA-protein-cysteine S-methyltransferase activity. High polymorphism and one fixed non-synonymous substitution suggest this is a fast evolving gene. The gene trees of both genes perfectly separate D. simulans and D. mauritiana into monophyletic groups. Analysis of gene expression using microarray revealed trends that were similar to those previously found in comparisons between whole-genome hybrids and parental species.
Conclusions: The identification following confirmation of the HMS candidate gene will add another case study leading to understanding the evolutionary process of hybrid incompatibility.