Molecular basis of the copulatory plug polymorphism in Caenorhabditis elegans

Michael F. Palopoli, Matthew V. Rockman, Aye TinMaung, Camden Ramsay, Stephen Curwen, Andrea Aduna, Jason Laurita, Leonid Kruglyak

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Heritable variation is the raw material for evolutionary change, and understanding its genetic basis is one of the central problems in modern biology. We investigated the genetic basis of a classic phenotypic dimorphism in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Males from many natural isolates deposit a copulatory plug after mating, whereas males from other natural isolates-including the standard wild-type strain (N2 Bristol) that is used in most research laboratories-do not deposit plugs. The copulatory plug is a gelatinous mass that covers the hermaphrodite vulva, and its deposition decreases the mating success of subsequent males. We show that the plugging polymorphism results from the insertion of a retrotransposon into an exon of a novel mucin-like gene, plg-1, whose product is a major structural component of the copulatory plug. The gene is expressed in a subset of secretory cells of the male somatic gonad, and its loss has no evident effects beyond the loss of male mate-guarding. Although C. elegans descends from an obligate-outcrossing, male?female ancestor, it occurs primarily as self-fertilizing hermaphrodites. The reduced selection on male-male competition associated with the origin of hermaphroditism may have permitted the global spread of a loss-of-function mutation with restricted pleiotropy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1019-1022
Number of pages4
Issue number7207
StatePublished - Aug 21 2008

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    Palopoli, M. F., Rockman, M. V., TinMaung, A., Ramsay, C., Curwen, S., Aduna, A., Laurita, J., & Kruglyak, L. (2008). Molecular basis of the copulatory plug polymorphism in Caenorhabditis elegans. Nature, 454(7207), 1019-1022.