Washington: In a finding which
could have many practical uses for human health including male
contraception, US scientists claim to have discovered that the
human sperm gene is 600 million years old.
A team at Northwestern University has found that
the sex-specific gene, called Boule, which is responsible for
sperm production, has remained unaltered throughout evolution
and is found in almost all animals.
The research has also revealed that Boule is the only
gene known to be exclusively required for sperm production --
from an insect to a mammal.
"This is the first clear evidence that suggests our
ability to produce sperm is very ancient, probably originating
at the dawn of animal evolution 600 million years ago. This
finding suggests that all animal sperm production likely comes
from a common prototype," lead scientist Prof Eugene Xu said.
According to him, the discovery of Boule`s key role in
perpetuating animal species offers a better understanding of
male infertility, a potential target for a male contraceptive
drug and a new direction for future development of pesticides
or medicine against infectious parasites or carriers of germs.
"Our findings also show that humans, despite how
complex we are, across the evolutionary lines all the way to
flies, which are very simple, still have one fundamental
element that`s shared.
"It`s really surprising because sperm production gets
pounded by natural selection. It tends to change due to strong
selective pressures for sperm-specific genes to evolve. There
is pressure to be super male to improve reproductive success.
"This is the one sex-specific element that didn`t
change across species. This must be so important that it can`t
change. Boule is likely the oldest human sperm-specific gene
ever discovered," Xu said.
For the study, the scientists searched for and
discovered the presence of the Boule gene in sperm across
different evolutionary lines -- human, mammal, fish, insect,
worm and marine invertebrate.
"A sperm-specific gene like Boule is an ideal target
for a male contraceptive drug," Xu wrote in the latest edition
of the `PLoS Genetics` journal.