Independent Recruitments of a Translational Regulator in the Evolution of Self-Fertile Nematodes

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Dec 6;108(49):19672-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1108068108. Epub 2011 Nov 21.


Pleiotropic developmental regulators have been repeatedly linked to the evolution of anatomical novelties. Known mechanisms include cis-regulatory DNA changes that alter regulator transcription patterns or modify target-gene linkages. Here, we examine the role of another form of regulation, translational control, in the repeated evolution of self-fertile hermaphroditism in Caenorhabditis nematodes. Caenorhabditis elegans hermaphrodites initiate spermatogenesis in an otherwise female body through translational repression of the gene tra-2. This repression is mediated by GLD-1, an RNA-binding protein also required for oocyte meiosis and differentiation. By contrast, we show that in the convergently hermaphroditic Caenorhabditis briggsae, GLD-1 acts to promote oogenesis. The opposite functions of gld-1 in these species are not gene-intrinsic, but instead result from the unique contexts for its action that evolved in each. In C. elegans, GLD-1 became essential for promoting XX spermatogenesis via changes in the tra-2 mRNA and evolution of the species-specific protein FOG-2. C. briggsae GLD-1 became an essential repressor of sperm-promoting genes, including Cbr-puf-8, and did not evolve a strong association with tra-2. Despite its variable roles in sex determination, the function of gld-1 in female meiotic progression is ancient and conserved. This conserved role may explain why gld-1 is repeatedly recruited to regulate hermaphroditism. We conclude that, as with transcription factors, spatially localized translational regulators play important roles in the evolution of anatomical novelties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis / classification
  • Caenorhabditis / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Genetic Complementation Test
  • Hermaphroditic Organisms / genetics
  • Hermaphroditic Organisms / metabolism
  • Immunoblotting
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Oocytes / cytology
  • Oocytes / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • RNA Interference
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Species Specificity
  • Spermatogenesis / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • GLD-1 protein, C elegans
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • fog-2 protein, C elegans
  • tra-2 protein, C elegans