Why do sperm carry RNA? Relatedness, conflict, and control

Trends Ecol Evol. 2014 Aug;29(8):451-5. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2014.05.006. Epub 2014 Jun 7.


Classically, sperm were seen as transcriptionally inactive vehicles for delivering the paternal haplotype to an egg. Yet, it has become apparent that sperm also carry thousands of different RNAs, and the functions of most of these are unknown. Here, we make four novel suggestions for sperm RNA function. First, they could act as relatedness markers facilitating sperm cooperation. Second, they could act as paternally imposed suppressors of haploid interests. Third, they could act as a nuptial gift, providing the female with resources that entice her to fertilise ova using the sperm of the gift-provider. Fourth, they could represent the contents of a Trojan horse, delivered by males to manipulate female reproduction. We discuss these ideas and suggest how they might be tested.

Keywords: cooperation; ejaculate; haplo-diploid conflict; sexual conflict; sperm competition; spermatozoa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Male
  • RNA / physiology*
  • Spermatozoa / physiology*


  • RNA