Comparative population genomics of the ejaculate in humans and the great apes

Jeffrey M. Good, Victor Wiebe, Frank W. Albert, Hernán A. Burbano, Martin Kircher, Richard E. Green, Michel Halbwax, Claudine André, Rebeca Atencia, Anne Fischer, Svante Pääbo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The rapid molecular evolution of reproductive genes is nearly ubiquitous across animals, yet the selective forces and functional targets underlying this divergence remain poorly understood. Humans and closely related species of great apes show strongly divergent mating systems, providing a powerful system to investigate the influence of sperm competition on the evolution of reproductive genes. This is complemented by detailed information on male reproductive biology and unparalleled genomic resources in humans. Here, we have used custom microarrays to capture and sequence 285 genes encoding proteins present in the ejaculate as well as 101 randomly selected control genes in 21 gorillas, 20 chimpanzees, 20 bonobos, and 20 humans. In total, we have generated >25× average genomic coverage per individual for over 1 million target base pairs. Our analyses indicate high levels of evolutionary constraint across much of the ejaculate combined with more rapid evolution of genes involved in immune defense and proteolysis. We do not find evidence for appreciably more positive selection along the lineage leading to bonobos and chimpanzees, although this would be predicted given more intense sperm competition in these species. Rather, the extent of positive and negative selection depended more on the effective population sizes of the species. Thus, general patterns of male reproductive protein evolution among apes and humans depend strongly on gene function but not on inferred differences in the intensity of sperm competition among extant species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)964-976
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • male reproduction
  • molecular evolution
  • sexual selection
  • sperm competition


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